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Cathedrals prepare space for Covid-19 vaccination centres

12 November 2020

Primates call for fair distribution to the poorest countries

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CATHEDRALS across England are preparing to become temporary Covid-19 vaccination centres.

It was announced on Monday that the first effective coronavirus vaccine has been found to prevent more than 90 per cent of people from being infected. The vaccine, which has been developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries. No safety concerns have been raised.

The UK should get ten million doses by the end of the year. A further 30 million doses have been ordered. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, told MPs on Tuesday that the NHS would be ready to roll out the vaccine by next month, but that “there was no guarantee” of an imminent return to “normal” life. GPs would be given an extra £150 million to help.

The Deans and Chapters of Lichfield, Blackburn, Guildford, Gloucester, St Edmundsbury, and Southwark cathedrals are among the first to offer the buildings to their local health providers as a safe vaccination space.

The Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, said on Wednesday: “The roll-out of this new vaccine to immunise us against Covid-19 infection is the best news of the year. We want to offer the cathedral nave as a big space that can safely and securely house local vaccination programmes and enable speedy delivery to those most at risk.”

After Oldham, the Blackburn area has had the second highest coronavirus infection figures in the country. The region has been in local lockdown since July.

The cathedral is currently in talks with Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria health providers to turn the Undercroft and Crypt area into a vaccination centre for an estimated 12- to 14-month period from December. This would allow for up to 1700 people a week to be vaccinated: 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Dean of Blackburn, the Very Revd Peter Howell-Jones, said on Wednesday: “At the heart of the Christian faith is love and hospitality, and a God that cares for all people. It is only right we offer our building as a safe and accessible space for this exciting inoculation plan and be prepared to serve the nation in these times of deep uncertainty and fear.”

Last month, Guildford Cathedral was turned into a drive-through clinic to immunise 800 residents against influenza. The Dean, the Very Revd Dianna Gwilliams said: “We were delighted to provide the venue for one of the GP practices in Guildford to hold a drive-in clinic and have offered our space again once a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available.

“Something as simple and basic as hospitality adds huge value to our community, especially at a time of uncertainty. For all cathedrals this hospitality demonstrates our place as places of hope and light for the nation.”

On Tuesday, the Primates of the Anglican Communion called on governments to ensure that any successful vaccines would be distributed to the poorest countries.

In their communiqué, published after a two-day online meeting attended by representatives from 37 of the 41 member Churches last week, they write: “The Primates appeal to the Governments of those countries developing vaccines to work closely with the WHO to ensure that distribution is on a just and fair basis, to the most vulnerable and not merely to the richest.”

The Primates’ Meeting included a presentation from Dr Sylvie Briand, who is the director for Global Infectious Hazards Preparedness in the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme.

She said: “We have effective vaccines for many deadly diseases, WHO is doing the utmost to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine is both safe and effective. Together, I hope we can create a partnership to empower and engage communities. It is certain that the most vulnerable in communities suffer the greatest impact of any epidemic, and these vulnerable communities most in need as the vaccine roll out begins next year.

“It is clear that there is opportunity for mutual collaboration between the Anglican Communion both locally and globally in this regard.”

Dr Mike Ryan, who is the WHO’s executive director for Health Emergencies Preparedness and Response, agreed. “Epidemics are about communities. Communities stop epidemics. For this reason, we are eager to work with faith leaders to build solidarity and uphold social justice, enabling you to speak to communities in a credible and understandable way.”

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