Isabella H. de Carvalho, I.Media
As certain countries start administering third doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, many people around the world are still waiting for their first injection. As of September 2021, 62% of people in high-income countries have received at least one dose, while only 3% have in low-income countries, according to the United Nation’s Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity.
“When thinking about the access to vaccines we are in front of a global security problem with many dimensions : health, social, economic,” Maria Amparo Alonso, Head of Advocacy and Campaign of Caritas Internationalis, stated at a Round Table discussion organized by TV agency, Rome Reports, on September 27, 2021.
This discussion, held at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, brought together five international Catholic-inspired institutions and companies for an exchange on how to sustain an equitable global vaccination campaign.
Based on consultations with Caritas’ worldwide network, Alonso gave five recommendations on how to “put again the people at the center” of the vaccination efforts.
1. Ensuring an effective deliverance of vaccines on the ground
Firstly, Alonso said countries need to ensure there is an effective administration of vaccines within each territory. She recognized that the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, which distributes vaccines to medium and lower-income states, is crucial for ensuring that these nations with less means receive the inoculations. However, she emphasized it is important the doses are then effectively distributed on the ground, in order to reach the whole population.
“This mechanism, [COVAX] arrives to the border, so what is happening with the most vulnerable people? To those living in rural areas, to the marginalized?” She stated. “What is happening with the “periferia” as Pope Francis is always saying?”
Pope Francis has frequently encouraged for vaccines to be available for everyone. Earlier this year, the Holy See also organized a vaccination campaign for the homeless who live around the Vatican and inoculated almost 1500 people since January 2021.
2. Partnering with faith-based organizations
Alonso emphasized the need for countries to partner with faith-based organizations that are present on the ground and work in marginalized communities to deliver health services. Caritas Internationalis for example has around 160 members present in over 200 countries.
“[The faith-based organizations] are close, they know, they listen, they accompany the most vulnerable people,” she stated.
The World Health Organization in fact has engaged with more than 50 faith actors, partners and organizations in order to help deliver health services and reach people.
3. Share more vaccine doses with low-income countries
Alonso said more needs to be done to ensure developing countries receive vaccine doses. She said the G20 meeting, which will be held in Rome on October 30, is a good opportunity to invite states to fund, share and distribute vaccines equitably and support initiatives such as COVAX.
In June 2021, the G7 leaders pledged one billion vaccine doses to the COVAX scheme. The People’s Vaccine Alliance, which includes major political leaders from developing countries and international humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam and Human Rights Watch, have estimated that only 13% of the doses promised have been delivered as of September 2021. Additionally, according to an Airfinity study, the G7 and EU will have 1 billion surplus doses by the end of 2021, of which 10%, 100 million, are set to expire.
Alonso also emphasized the importance of facilitating the local production of the vaccines by overcoming the political debate regarding the intellectual property rights of the injections. Certain countries and world leaders, including Pope Francis, have supported the proposal to waive the intellectual property rights of the inoculations, which would allow countries to produce the vaccines locally rather than need to buy them from the pharmaceutical companies that created them. Other leaders have disagreed, saying that property rights are necessary to foster competition and scientific development.
“Let’s put people first, before businesses, because this situation deserves a human rights-centered approach,” Alonso stated.
4. Strengthen health systems while distributing the vaccines
Alonso called for a comprehensive vaccination policy that adopts to the needs of the local context. This means strengthening health systems that may have collapsed due to the pandemic or cannot provide adequate care due to lack of facilities or materials.
A study by CARE estimates that for every $1 a state invests in vaccine doses, an additional $5.00 need to be invested to deliver the injections effectively. This means having adequate refrigeration and storage facilities for the inoculations as well as logistical tools to organize appointments and reach people.
In June 2021 the International Monetary Fund, along with the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and the World Trade Organization called for a $50 billion investment to help countries develop their health systems to be able to manufacture, supply and deliver effective care to tackle the pandemic.
5. Richer countries should use their power to assist the most vulnerable
Alonso said that Caritas found that, across all regions, those that did not have the possibility to get the vaccine were the most vulnerable such as refugees, the homeless or the disabled. She encouraged high-income states to leverage their diplomatic and economic power to assist these left-behind groups.
“Let’s put back again the people at the center, and the most vulnerable in this case,” she stated.
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