By Mario Galgano
In the spirit of Pope Francis’ most recent encyclical, Fratelli tutti, it is now more necessary than ever to show solidarity. Speaking to Vatican Radio’s Mario Galgano, Pirmin Spiegel, the Director General of Misereor (the German Catholic Bishops’ Organisation for Development Cooperation), notes that there are studies showing that 13 percent of the world’s population has secured about half of the Covid vaccines. This figure, he explained, is one that is causing experts to worry that achieving universal vaccination could take years unless wealthy nations are willing to invest more in it.
The fight must be a global one
“Let’s not kid ourselves,” Spiegel warns, “the world will only be able to deal with the Covid-19 crisis if we fight it everywhere, not just at home.” He also refers to statements by Tilman Rüppel of the Medical Missionary Institute in Würzburg, with which Misereor works closely. Rüppel warns against a “vaccination nationalism” that focuses only on the pandemic in one’s own country and fails to recognize its global implications.
It is now a matter of bringing the virus under control in all countries around the world as quickly as possible, the expert says. If this succeeds only in individual regions, the Coronavirus has time to mutate, i.e., change genetically, and could become even harder to fight.
“And here you see, and it becomes very clear, that inequality in our world is also mapped in the issue of access to vaccines. That’s why vaccines are a global public good. Therefore, there must be quotas for the entire world population, to distribute them proportionately to the respective populations and to take into account levels of risk and vulnerability.”
Spiegel quotes Rüppel as saying that nothing is gained if we as a society are protected by a vaccination, but that it loses its effectiveness because the virus mutates in another country and is brought back to us from there.
Latin America’s struggle
As a consequence of this realisation, Pirmin Spiegel advocates for a temporary suspension of patents on the various vaccines so that they can be produced and purchased in a timely manner. The coronavirus situation is still very tense in many Southern countries. He then goes on to recall the situation in Brazil: “Here, our partner organizations report to us that more than eight million people are infected and more than 200,000 people have died of Covid-19, in some cases in devastating conditions,” says Spiegel. In Manaus, for example, hospitals are overcrowded and lack protective equipment. No vaccine has yet been approved by the national health authority in the Latin American country.
The situation is also dramatic in Mexico, where more than 134,000 people have died from Covid-19. In total, more than 1.5 million people have been infected. The country, with a population of nearly 130 million people – the tenth largest in the world – has the fourth highest number of deaths from Coronavirus. He said the pandemic exacerbates existing social inequalities. Up to 45 percent of Mexico’s low- and middle-income pre-crisis population is at risk of poverty, he said. And the government is merely appealing to contain the pandemic, Misereor’s partners report.
In countries like Bolivia or Argentina, there is a lack of sufficient financial resources to be able to purchase powerful and reliable vaccines. As a result, the government in La Paz, for example, relies primarily on the Russian-made Sputnik vaccine. This vaccine has been less extensively tested than other preparations and its sufficient efficacy is controversial.
From Bolivia, Misereor’s partners report that especially in rural regions there is a lack of infrastructure and equipment necessary for vaccinations (cooling systems, etc.), as well as a lack of qualified personnel. The government also lacks important information, such as the total number of vaccines guaranteed, their reliability, tolerability, effectiveness and prices. It also refuses to allow civil society organizations to participate in pandemic management.
A just distribution
“Some rich countries have already secured more vaccines than they need to supply their populations,” Spiegel says. In many countries in the South, however, people have to wait a long time before enough vaccine is available, he said. “Let’s make sure that all people who want it can be vaccinated quickly,” the Misereor leader urged.
“In the spirit of universal brotherhood and solidarity, the poorest and most vulnerable need special attention. And we must not lose sight of other serious and growing crises in the South, despite the pandemic. Hunger, lack of access to health care, lack of educational opportunities, the consequences of climate change, and gender injustice.”