THE coronavirus will not be defeated anywhere until it is defeated everywhere, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday morning, after 100,000 Covid-related deaths were reported in the UK, Archbishop Welby said that the UK, like other rich nations, must look after others as well as its own. So far, just under four million people have received the first dose of the vaccine in the UK. About 71.1 million doses have been distributed globally, mostly in the United States and China.
“It is in our own interests that all round the world the vaccine is given,” Archbishop Welby said. “The Government has been very, very good about supporting the COVAX programme; we are the biggest donor to it. . . We are one of the countries with one of the highest levels of infection and death rate in the world, and it is necessary to focus on those in need to stop it spreading.”
The COVAX programme, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), is a global initiative, involving two-thirds of the world’s countries, to ensure that every person, regardless of wealth, will have access to Covid-19 vaccines once they are available.
Being generous to nations that could not afford the vaccine was fulfilling Christ’s teaching to love your neighbour as yourself, Archbishop Welby said. “It doesn’t mean you let yourself die in order to love your neighbour. . . but Jesus calls us to a generosity of heart and spirit, and there will be a point when we have to start giving away.
“Places like Canada have ordered five times what they need, and I am sure they will look at how that will be distributed around the world, and similarly here. I’ve no doubt that is on the Government’s mind.”
The Government has given £548 million to the COVAX programme, thought to be the programme’s largest donation. This would supply one billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines for up to 92 developing countries, with deliveries set to begin in the first quarter of 2021.
Archbishop Welby praised the Government for its “exceptional moral leadership” on COVAX, but advised that a global vaccine campaign led by fact was also needed to overcome the pandemic.
Speaking in a debate on overseas development aid in the House of Lords last Thursday, the Archbishop said: “There are three particular obstructions to overcome. One relates to the use of surplus supplies of vaccine; for example, Canada has ordered more than five times what it needs for its population.
“The second is misinformation, mythical dangers or false stories being deliberately spread about the vaccines. Thirdly, in many parts of the countries that will need the vaccine, there are immense logistical difficulties in distributing it.”
Responding, the Minister of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Lord Ahmad, said that the UK had not over-ordered and would be imploring other countries to look at fair distribution through COVAX.
He agreed that misinformation on approved vaccines was “highly regrettable” and must be combated with clear information. He promised that logistics would be addressed through “training and by ensuring that front-line healthcare workers in the field in developing parts of the world are vaccinated first”.
The Prime Minister told the House of Commons on Wednesday that — to “honour the memory” of the 100,000 people who had died — the Government had “launched the biggest vaccination programme in British history”.
He continued: “We are on track to achieve our goal of offering a first dose to everyone in the top four priority groups by the middle of Feb. I can also reassure the House that all current evidence shows that both the vaccines we are administering remain effective against the new variant.”
There was not yet enough evidence, however, to indicate when current restrictions might be lifted, he said, although this may be clearer “by mid-February”. Plans would more likely be published when parliament returned from recess on 22 February. “As we inoculate more people hour by hour this is the time to hold our nerve in the end game of the battle against the virus.”
In his interview on Today, Archbishop Welby defended the decision by the authorities at some churches and cathedrals, including Canterbury Cathedral, to close their doors and not offer the building as vaccination centre. Those that had the capacity were distributing vaccines only if it had been deemed safe to do so, he said.
“The buildings may be closed, but the church is incredibly open. The clergy are exhausted, but continuing to serve their communities, reaching out to the bereaved in the most extraordinary way. I’ve never been so grateful for our clergy across the country.”
Some larger churches have been opened as vaccination clinics, while clerics are among those who have been trained to administer the vaccine (News, 15 January). Canon Sue Clarke, a retired hospital consultant and retired self-supporting minister who is currently ministering in south London, re-registered with the General Medical Council and trained online. She has so far vaccinated 200 people in the local Baptist church hall. She described it as a “profoundly moving” experience.
“A number of parishioners were surprised to see me in scrubs wielding a syringe; other parishioners were there as volunteers, guiding patients through the process and keeping everyone cheerful, despite the freezing temperatures inside the hall with the exit doors wide open.
“The community came together as patients, GP-practice professionals, and volunteers to begin the work of protecting us all from infection.”