World faith leaders banded together to call for equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution on Sunday, signing an international declaration alongside the heads of global health and humanitarian organizations.
The declaration, released ahead of the 74th World Health Assembly on Monday, said that the COVID-19 pandemic has touched every country in the world, with vulnerable communities shouldering most of the burden. To correct existing inequalities and end the pandemic everywhere, it called on world leaders to coordinate a global response to ensure vaccine equity.
“There is a choice. The world of the next 10 years can be one of greater justice, abundance, and dignity. Or it can be one of conflict, insecurity, and poverty,” the declaration said.
Signatories of the declaration include Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO); Henrietta H. Fore, executive director of UNICEF; Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees; Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC); the Most Reverend Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury; Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar; and other Christian and Jewish religious leaders, according to the Guardian.
“Those of us who have signed this declaration represent organizations with roots in communities across the world,” it said. “We work closely with those affected by conflict, disaster, and famine, and know the immense challenges they face — but also of their resilience even in the worst of situations.”
Currently, the WHO has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Serum Institute of India, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use. Other doses being used around the world — primarily in developing nations — include Russia's Sputnik V and China's Sinovac vaccines.
More than 75% of all COVID-19 inoculations have occurred in 10 countries, according to Dr. Tedros, with just over 0.4% of vaccinations taking place in the world’s poorest nations. He has called the unfolding of vaccine nationalism a “moral catastrophe” and urged governments to share their supply immediately.
Within the declaration, signatories called on world leaders to ensure equitable access to vaccines between countries by sharing doses and knowledge, as well as funding the ACT-Accelerator and supporting its vaccine pillar, COVAX. They also highlighted the importance of promoting vaccine equity within nations by making sure marginalized populations — including low-income communities and people of color — are able to access COVID-19 vaccines. Finally, they called for all countries to support one another financially, politically, and technically and coordinate a multilateral effort to improve health care access.
This international declaration is not the first time that religious leaders have called on governments to treat the COVID-19 vaccine as a common good.
In April, 145 religious leaders united to urge members of the G7 to share vaccine doses and take the necessary steps to produce COVID-19 vaccines in lower-income countries.
As part of Global Citizen’s VAX LIVE: The Concert to Reunite the World, His Holiness Pope Francis called for universal vaccine access and a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights surrounding the vaccines.
Thank you, @pontifex, for supporting the universal access to the COVID-19 vaccine and a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights. We must protect the world’s most vulnerable and ensure that everyone, everywhere is safe from this pandemic. #VaxLivepic.twitter.com/OuWNiSkYaO— Global Citizen (@GlblCtzn) May 8, 2021
Other faith leaders joined VAX LIVE to highlight the importance of equitable vaccine distribution, including H.E. Judge Mohamed Abdelsalam, secretary general of the Higher Committee on Human Fraternity; Rev. Debra Hickman, CEO of Sisters Together and Reaching, Inc.; and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.
The calls for greater vaccine equity come as many countries are still dealing with rates of COVID-19 cases. Seychelles, which quickly vaccinated over half of its total population against COVID-19, has recently experienced a rise in COVID-19 infections and reimposed lockdown restrictions to stop the virus from spreading further. In India, where cases have stabilized for the time being, COVID-19 deaths are still being reported at high rates.
While no WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine is 100% effective, the available vaccines have proven to be highly effective at curbing infection and death rates. Nations that have not received sufficient doses of the vaccine are most at risk of experiencing further waves of infections and deaths, preventing an end to the pandemic everywhere.
“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,” Sunday’s declaration reads. “As the pandemic has shown us, in our interdependent world no one is safe until everyone is safe.
“We have a choice: vaccine nationalism or human solidarity.”