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Global faith leaders speak out against vaccine nationalism

24 May 2021

Alamy

Vaccinations restart for people aged over 75 in Gwangju, South Korea, on Monday, after an interruption in the Pfizer vaccine supply

Vaccinations restart for people aged over 75 in Gwangju, South Korea, on Monday, after an interruption in the Pfizer vaccine supply

THE Archbishop of Canterbury is among the Christian and other religious leaders who, on Monday, joined the heads of the world’s largest health and humanitarian organisations to urge governments to choose “vaccine nationalism or human solidarity”.

Their joint declaration says that “equitable vaccine distribution is a humanitarian imperative,” and repeats the message: “No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

Other signatories are the executive director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore; the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer; the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi; the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus: and the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Francesco Rocca.

Among the religious leaders are the grand imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb; the Ecumenical Patriarchate, His Excellency Emmanuel of Chalcedon; the co-president of Religions for Peace, Rabbi David Rosen; and Roman Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, and Reformed Churches.

The declaration was made to coincide with the opening day of the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s decision-making body, which will focus on the pandemic.

Humanitarian and religious leaders have been warning of the damage caused by vaccine nationalism for months (News, 30 April), and have urged countries with high vaccination rates to consider not vaccinating their teenagers and young people but donating their extra vaccines to COVAX, the global initiative that seeks to give access to a vaccine to the poorest 20 per cent of the world’s population (News, 26 March).

The aid agency Christian Aid warned in a report published last week of “vaccine apartheid”, as wealthy countries monopolised vaccine supplies and left populations in the poorest countries waiting for, perhaps, years to be protected (News, 21 May).

The Anglican Alliance also published a paper on vaccine equity last week. It called on the Church to use its “moral authority” to demand change (News 21 May).

The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, called last Friday for a taskforce to be set up to deal with pharmaceutical companies and to ensure equal vaccine distribution around the world. He said that the taskforce “should be co-convened at the highest levels by the major powers who hold most of the global supply and production capacity”.

Monday’s international declaration says that the pandemic has exposed and worsened inequalities between and within countries, the effect of which will be felt for generations. But it continues: “There is a choice. The world of the next ten years can be one of greater justice, abundance, and dignity. Or it can be one of conflict, insecurity, and poverty. We are at a turning point.

“We need to build a world where each community, regardless of where they live, or who they are, has urgent access to vaccinations: not just for Covid-19, but also for the many other diseases that continue to harm and kill. As the pandemic has shown us, in our interdependent world no one is safe until everyone is safe.”

Vaccine nationalism will result in greater economic losses around the globe, the leaders warn: “Studies show that if we focus only on vaccinating our own populations, the world risks global GDP losses of up to $9.2 trillion (with half of that cost being incurred by high income countries) this year alone.”

Although finance is a key part of the solution, “complex logistical, infrastructure, and scaling issues” will need to be tackled if equitable access to vaccines is to be achieved, both between countries and within countries, the declaration says.

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