Be careful not to impose a “Western vision” on the COVID-19 vaccines

Vincenzo Paglia

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, issues a warning

Isabella H. de Carvalho, I.Media

In order to ensure widespread vaccinations against COVID-19, world leaders need to be wary of imposing a “Western vision” on health needs, urged Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, during a press conference at the Holy See’s Press Office on July 2, 2021.

“Supporting the universal availability of vaccines means entering into a complex set of problems, which have aspects that are scientific-technological, economic-commercial and geopolitical, such as ‘vaccine nationalism’,” said Archbishop Paglia.

The press conference was presenting the concluding remarks on the webinar “International Roundtable on Vaccination,” which occurred on July 1, and invited leading experts from around the world to discuss how to address vaccine hesitancy and their equal distribution. The symposium was held in partnership with the World Medical Association (WMA) and the German Medical Association (GMA) and the Pontifical Academy of Life. 

“What I would like to point out in particular are the cultural aspects of vaccines in different societies,” emphasized Archbishop Paglia.

The President of the Academy reminded that in certain countries in the Global South the history of vaccines represents injustice and oppression by world powers. He explained it is difficult to ask citizens to trust those same world powers, many of whom produce the COVID-19 injections today, who may have exploited their populations in the past. 

Archbishop Paglia continued by adding that the priorities of the West are not necessarily shared by all countries, especially with regards to African countries. He highlighted that in Africa more people die of malaria and tuberculosis rather than COVID-19. In 2019 for example there were almost 400,000 deaths due to malaria across the continent, according to the World Health Organization’s 2020 report on the disease. As of June 2021 there have been around 140,000 deaths due to COVID-19, although the number may be higher in reality as testing is not widely available across all countries which means cases may go undetected.

Archbishop Paglia said initiatives that are helping the African COVID-19 response should keep in mind these local realities by consider long-term structural goals, rather than just offer short-term solutions for the current pandemic. Dr. Ramin Parsa-Parsi, head of the GMA, also spoke at the conference and developed on Mgr Paglia’s point by saying that to ensure universal vaccine access the injections need to be produced locally but with adequate quality controls, good training for health workers and international investment to create the production sites.

The speakers at the conference agreed that to overcome the hurdles of the global vaccination campaign international dialogue and cooperation is necessary as well as interdisciplinary collaboration.

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