An elderly woman received an injection with a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Vallecas nursing home in Madrid Dec. 27.
An elderly woman received an injection with a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Vallecas nursing home in Madrid Dec. 27.
Photo Credit: Comunidad de Madrid handout via Reuters

Vatican calls for equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Vatican coronavirus commission and Pontifical Academy for Life said ‘it is a matter of justice’

The Vatican’s coronavirus commission and the Pontifical Academy for Life issued a joint statement calling for a coordinated international effort to ensure the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.

The document highlights the “critical role of vaccines to defeat the pandemic, not just for individual personal health but to protect the health of all,” the Vatican said in a statement accompanying the document Dec. 29.

“The Vatican commission and the Pontifical Academy of Life remind world leaders that vaccines must be provided to all fairly and equitably, prioritizing those most in need,” the Vatican said.

“As we move toward a just recovery, we must ensure that immediate cures for the crises become stepping-stones to a more just society, with an inclusive and interdependent set of systems,” the document said.

Pope Francis established the COVID-19 commission in April with the goal of expressing “the Church’s concern and love for the entire human family in the face of the of COVID-19 pandemic.”

Led by Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the commission is tasked with collaborating with other Vatican offices to coordinate its work, including “an analysis and a reflection on the socioeconomic and culture challenges of the future and proposed guidelines to address them.”

“It is a matter of justice,” Cardinal Turkson said. “This is the time to show we are one human family.”

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said his office is working with the commission to address the ethical issues regarding the vaccines’ development and distribution.

The joint document reiterated the points made Dec. 21 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the moral implications of receiving COVID-19 vaccines that were developed or tested using cell lines originating from aborted fetuses.

It also cited the congregation’s 2008 instruction, “Dignitas Personae,” which states that “grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such biological material.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life, the document said, also has addressed the issue of developing vaccines using tissue from aborted fetuses; while it called for a “commitment to ensuring that every vaccine has no connection in its preparation to any material originating from an abortion,” it also said that “the moral responsibility to vaccinate is reiterated in order to avoid serious health risks for children and the general population.”

The new document issued a set of objectives, particularly around making the vaccines “available and accessible to all.”

Part of that process, the document said, would be to consider how to reward those who developed the vaccine and repay “the research costs and risks companies have taken on,” while also recognizing the vaccine “as a good to which everyone should have access, without discrimination.”

The document quoted Pope Francis, who said in his Christmas message that humanity could not allow “the virus of radical individualism to get the better of us and make us indifferent to the suffering of other brothers and sisters,” nor could it allow “the law of the marketplace and patents take precedence over the law of love and the health of humanity.”

The dicastery and the academy said an exclusive focus on profit and commerce “is not ethically acceptable in the field of medicine and health care.”

The Vatican document called for the negotiation of international agreements to manage the vaccine patents “so as to facilitate universal access to the vaccine and avoid potential commercial disruptions, particularly to keep the price steady in the future.”

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