The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), as reported by The Guardian, has warned that as COVID vaccines continue to roll out, the world faces a “catastrophic moral failure” as richer countries administer the vaccine on a vast scale, while poor countries are left behind.
The head of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, underscored the fact that millions of doses had been received by higher income countries, while many of the world’s poorest countries go without — resulting in overwhelming sickness and death among the poorest.
A tragic and preventable example is that “Only 1 percent of the 1.3 billion vaccines injected around the world have been administered in Africa.”
In India, which in April broke the world record for new COVID cases in a single day — surpassing 330,000 — only 3 percent of the population has been vaccinated.
The editor of Indian Catholic Matters, Verghese V. Joseph, told me that while the number of new COVID cases is now declining, Indians are still very vulnerable since the supply of vaccinations is nowhere near matching the demand.
But the hardest hit country is Peru. According to Johns Hopkins University data, Peru has the highest death rate per capita from COVID in the world.
St. Michael Catholic Church in Prior Lake, Minnesota, where I serve as pastoral care minister, has a sister parish relationship with Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Chimbote, Peru. We work in concert with the umbrella organization Friends of Chimbote.
In an email to me, Friends of Chimbote Executive Director Todd Mickelson wrote, “The deadlier Brazilian COVID variant is spreading through Peru. Medical systems have collapsed with no hospital beds available and severe shortages of oxygen and treatments. The economy is in failure with no government funds reaching the poor we serve who do not have bank accounts to receive assistance. Education for the children of the poor cannot occur with no access to electronics or the internet.
“It is essential to humanity and the health and prosperity of the world that global leaders of the wealthiest nations immediately provide vaccines, funding, logistical support and leadership to developing countries. Dedicating resources and expertise to vaccinating the world expeditiously is not only the just and humane thing to do but the only way to stop this pandemic and the risk of continuous mutations and devastation.”
U.S. President Biden’s decision to send 500 million COVID vaccinations to poor nations, and the offer from the other G-7 nations to send an additional 500 million doses is certainly a good step in the right direction. But buying these doses from a very small group of patent holders like Pfizer-BioNTech will take far too long — into 2024 — to safely reach the nearly 6 billion remaining unvaccinated brothers and sisters whose lives are unnecessarily on the line.
Over 170 former world leaders and Nobel laureates have urged President Biden to support a waiver of profit motivated intellectual property rules for COVID vaccines and related treatments, thus allowing many other companies around the world to produce the life-saving vaccines.
Our leaders must push the World Trade Organization for a comprehensive waiver of intellectual property rules on COVID vaccines and related treatments.
Weighing in on this, Pope Francis said we need “a spirit of justice that mobilizes us to ensure universal access to the vaccine, and a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights.”
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan and parish gatherings nationwide about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well-received by audiences from Santa Clara, Calif., to Baltimore, Md. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.