CHIANG MAI: “As faith communities, we must support and amplify the need for equitable sharing of vaccines and enforceable frameworks for vaccine development and distribution; countries must be bound by agreements rather than arbitrary limits which maximise profits for a few. Short-term thinking of caring only for the rich and the privileged few should not be the aim, but the health and wellbeing of all God’s people, in the long run, should be the goal,” asserted the participants and panellists of an online Consultation organised by the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA).
The online Consultation organised by CCA on ‘Towards Vaccine Equity amidst COVID-19 Surge in Asia’, and held on 20 July 2021, emphasised global vaccine equity as an ‘urgent moral and ethical imperative’.
Dr Mathews George Chunakara, the General Secretary of the CCA, in his opening remarks, stated, “the prevailing inequitable distribution of vaccines is leaving millions of people vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease. In responding to such a crisis, national governments normally tend to follow their own interests rather than a globally coordinated approach to share the vaccines with less privileged ones. We now face a situation where countries are pushing for first access and are holding on to key components of some aspects of production, as well as stockpiling vaccines, which we consider ‘vaccine nationalism’. This has negative consequences for how well the global pandemic is managed and contained; not only in the long term but with immediate effect.”
“There is a lack of effort towards the goals of global solidarity and equity for access to vaccines, and this continues to persist. It undermines every effort towards disease control and derails the project of achieving a pandemic-free world. Everyone in our regions must have the knowledge, access, and resources for advanced research and development to make the vaccines locally,” added Dr Mathews George Chunakara.
The CCA General Secretary added that rich countries hoard vaccines at the expense of poor countries, thus excluding millions of others. Asian countries are now at a crossroad; they are experiencing precarious circumstances concerning public vaccination.
Dr Milton B Amayun, a Global Health expert from the Philippines, explained the universal health coverage (UHC) in the context of access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr Milton mentioned that the goals of UHC were comparable to vaccine equity in terms of access, sufficient quality, and financial protection. He also asserted that the pandemic should be addressed broadly in preventing further transmission, protecting the delivery of essential health services, promoting mass vaccinations, expanding access to new rapid diagnostics and treatments, ensuring that future COVID-19 vaccines are a global public good with equitable access for everyone everywhere, and addressing the spread of misinformation and fake news about vaccine safety.
Rev. Dr Angelique Walker-Smith from Bread for the World, USA addressed the participants and shared the advocacy initiatives of faith communities in North America to persuade the leaders of the developed world to pursue global vaccine equity by means of speedily and urgently sharing vaccine stockpiles, approving the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver for vaccines, treatments, diagnostics, and other medical equipment, and supporting the global vaccine plan of inoculating all the world’s population by April 2022.
Dr Alex Tang from Monash University in Malaysia gave the scientific perspective on vaccines and vaccinations to demystify the myths and misconceptions. He mentioned that the creation of the COVID-19 vaccine was possible in a short duration due to similar outbreaks in the recent past that had provided scientists with the knowledge, expertise, and technology to produce COVID-19 vaccines. He also emphasised that the vaccine may not prevent contracting the infection but played a great role in reducing the severity of the disease which was to be considered as an important factor in the efficacy of the vaccine.
Dr Priya John, General Secretary of Christian Medical Association of India, in her presentation stated that the role of faith-based institutions in vaccine equity was to complement the initiatives of the government which involved addressing fear and hesitancy, providing services using their resources, and reaching out to the most remote and inaccessible communities in terms of geographic locations or various sections of the society.
Dr John mentioned that the strength of the Christian hospitals was the commitment of the staff and the trust that communities had in such institutions. She also emphasised that it was important to leverage potentials towards equitable vaccine access and availability, and dialogue with governments to recognise the contribution of Christian hospitals.
Abraham C. Mathews, an advocate of the Supreme Court of India, presented the challenges in access to vaccines from the perspective of regulation and laws related to the production, procurement, and import of raw materials for producing vaccines. He mentioned that even if countries could produce vaccines, there were regulations that needed to be addressed for companies.
Rev Dr Elly D. Pitoy-de Bell from the Protestant Church in Western Indonesia (GPIB) presented a model of churches responding to the need for scaling up vaccination processes and linking services with the government and other providers.
Dr Pitoy de Bell mentioned that in its vision, GPIB saw itself as a church sent by God to the world to present the signs of God’s Kingdom, namely love, joy, and peace. In accordance with this vision, GPIB was called to act in real-time amid the screams of human suffering. The GPIB was able to vaccinate more than 7000 persons in two weeks from different provinces as a joint effort with the Government of Indonesia. She said that the beneficiaries were from all faiths and that there was an effort to reach out to the entire community and not only to the members of the church.
The Consultation was attended by over 50 participants representing different church and church-related organisations from the CCA’s member constituencies as well as ecumenical partner organisations from other continents.