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Faith leaders urged to fight anti-vaccination myths

28 December 2020


Maria, a care-home resident in Puurs-Sint-Amands, south of Antwerp, in Belgium, at the start of the vaccination programme with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, on Monday

Maria, a care-home resident in Puurs-Sint-Amands, south of Antwerp, in Belgium, at the start of the vaccination programme with the Pfizer/BioNTech vac...

THE World Council of Churches and the World Jewish Congress have called on faith leaders to use their voices to combat myths spread by anti-vaccination groups about the Covid vaccine, some of which are closely linked to anti-Semitism.

They urge leaders to be vaccinated live, in front of media, as a way of building trust in the vaccines.

A joint paper by the two faith groups says that faith leaders also need to be involved in decisions about the distribution of the vaccine, to ensure that there is “global equity”.

Distribution decisions are “fundamentally ethical in nature”, the paper says, and are needed to ensure “poor countries are not excluded”. The two organisations raise concerns about what they call “vaccine nationalism”, in which richer countries buy up the vaccine for their own use, leaving less for poorer countries.

The interim general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Ioan Sauca, said: “The most important thing is that faith leaders take up the responsibility of helping their communities and societies reflect on these urgent ethical and practical issues, and contribute to decisions that are morally substantiated and accepted in their own contexts at this critical inflexion point in the course of the pandemic.”

Leaders of all faiths must publicly confront “the unsubstantiated rumours and conspiracy myths, promoted without evidence, that undermine public trust. . . In some cases the conspiracy myths have an explicitly anti-Semitic basis which should . . . be denounced.”

A report from the Government’s independent adviser on anti-Semitism, Lord Mann, found that nearly 80 per cent of anti-vaccination groups on social media were also running anti-Semitic content, including allegations that Israel was behind the coronavirus pandemic.

The report, published in the autumn, detailed the long history of the association between infections diseases and anti-Semitism, such as when Jews in Europe were blamed for the spread of bubonic plague in the 14th century.

The two organisations relate their ethical challenge to scriptural concepts, such as: the God-given dignity and worth of every human being (Genesis 1.27); the commandment to love one’s neighbours as oneself (Leviticus 19.18; Mark 12.31); and the call to care for the weakest and most vulnerable (Isaiah 1.17; James 1.27).

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of 350 Churches from more than 110 countries, representing more than 500 million Christians worldwide; the World Jewish Congress represents Jewish communities in more than 100 countries.

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