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Religious leaders call for end to vaccine nationalism

30 April 2021

States and pharmaceutical companies have ‘moral obligation’ to reach everyone


Empty bottles of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine at a centre in London

Empty bottles of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine at a centre in London

RELIGIOUS leaders around the world have called for an end to vaccine nationalism.

In an open letter, 145 religious leaders, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury the Rt Revd Lord Williams and the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, call on states and pharmaceutical companies to produce and distribute enough vaccines to immunise all the world’s population, saying that there is a “moral obligation” to reach everyone.

The signatories represent faiths in Europe, the Americas, and Africa, and include the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies; the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell; the President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Richard Teal; and the Recording Clerk of Quakers in Britain, Paul Parker. The Dalai Lama is also supporting the campaign.

They say that it is not right that countries in the global North hoard vaccines while low- and middle-income countries are barely getting any. They demand that global vaccine production be increased massively, and that countries release their excess doses (News, 26 March, 19 February).

They continue: “The Covid crisis has reminded us all of our interdependence, and of our responsibilities to care for one another. We can each only be well when all of us are well. If one part of the world is left to suffer the pandemic, all parts of the world will be put at ever-increasing risk.

“The access of people to life-saving Covid-19 vaccines cannot be dependent on people’s wealth, status, or nationality. We cannot abdicate our responsibilities to our brothers and sisters by imagining that the market can be left to resolve the crisis, or pretend to ourselves that our country has no obligation to people in their country. Every person is precious. We all have a moral obligation to reach everyone.

“We call on all leaders to reject vaccine nationalism and embrace a commitment to global vaccine equity. As religious leaders, we join our voices to the call for vaccines that are made available to all people as a global common good — a People’s Vaccine. This is the only way to end the pandemic.”

The call comes as part of action from the People’s Vaccine Alliance: a coalition of organisations and activists campaigning for a “people’s vaccine” for Covid-19, which would be based on shared knowledge and freely available to everyone everywhere.

In an article published on The Guardian website on Tuesday, Lord Williams calls for next month’s meeting of the G7 to act to end “vaccine apartheid”. He writes: “Future generations will look back with incredulity at our failure so far to do what is necessary for global public health in the course of this pandemic. As the tragic scenes in India right now demonstrate, the virus fundamentally is blind to politics, class, race or geography.

“Piecemeal response is ineffectual and the idea that certain enclaves can simply throw up walls around themselves is fantasy. Dispassionate economists have calculated that the cost to the G7 nations of making vaccines universally available would not only be a minute fraction of the trillions already earmarked for post-Covid economic recovery, but would result in net gains of some $466bn to G7 economies over the next four or five years.

“Conversely, a failure to respond adequately would drive vulnerable economies further into decline or chaos, leading to global instability.”

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