ROME — The only ethical and practical response to the coronavirus pandemic is solidarity, not competition — including when it comes to the vaccines, said a priest working on the Vatican COVID-19 Commission.
The need to develop and widely distribute vaccines for the coronavirus is the perfect example of how prioritizing solidarity serves the common good, a lesson Catholic social teaching has been promoting for decades, said Father Augusto Zampini, adjunct secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and a member of the commission’s directorate.
Getting the vaccine “is not a competition, because if I arrive first and the other doesn’t arrive, it doesn’t work,” Zampini said, noting that most scientists agree that to protect everyone, at least 70 percent of the population would need to be vaccinated or to have had COVID-19 and recovered.
The global spread of the pandemic has shown the need for global vaccination, he said. It is not enough that a few wealthier countries vaccinate 70 percent of their populations because the virus does not stop at the borders.
“If one person is not safe, nobody is safe,” Zampini said.
Even if the vaccines are expensive, he added, they are the most cost-effective way to end the pandemic and the billions of dollars it is costing the world in health care, job losses, production slowdowns and other economic consequences.
The Vatican, he said, is calling for universal access to the vaccines with a special emphasis on vaccinating the poor, the elderly, migrants and other vulnerable populations often left out of public health care programs “because this is a case where, if we don’t vaccinate everybody, it won’t work.”
The pope, the Vatican COVID-19 Commission, the Vatican Secretariat of State and its representatives, Caritas Internationalis and the Pontifical Academy for Life also have been calling for an easing of patent protections so that internationally approved COVID-19 vaccines can be made less expensively in multiple facilities around the world and delivered quickly to nearby populations.
Patents are necessary to motivate and reward research, innovation, creativity and investment, Zampini said, “but now what we need is an urgent innovation for the common good.”
And, he said, if most of the money invested in the vaccine development “is public money,” which it was, then the vaccine should be considered “a public good” and not simply a product to be sold.
The world has experienced pandemics before, “but never one like this that affected so much every single country in the world and every single person on the planet,” he said. Property rights must be protected, but the international community has other goods to protect as well — the life and health of its people, first of all.
But the Vatican COVID-19 Commission’s goal is not simply “vaccination for all,” he said. “The aim is a healthier planet where we can have healthy people and healthy institutions.”
The pandemic “is a very serious crisis related to public health, geopolitics, economics, jobs, climate change,” education and more, Zampini said.
The commission, which is in constant dialogue with health care experts, dioceses and religious orders around the world, also is trying to help by developing educational material explaining the coronavirus and the vaccines, including the Catholic Church’s judgment regarding the morality of their production, he said.
With the local communities’ trust and their vast local networks, Zampini said, Catholic and other religious leaders and organizations have a big role to play assuaging fears and convincing people that getting vaccinated is good for them and for their neighbors.