Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Representing Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, Maryknoll Sisters, and Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Next Steps for Vaccine Equity

The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns issued a joint letter on Feb. 16, excerpted here, urging President Biden to prioritize just and equitable COVID-19 vaccine policy. This article was published in the March-April 2021 issue of NewsNotes.

Dear President Biden: 

We, the undersigned religious organizations, call on you during this global health crisis to take every possible step to create a just and equitable policy toward the development, manufacture, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. We represent diverse faith communities with the shared value that the lives of each person -- young or old, all colors and genders, indigenous or migrant, laborer or CEO -- are equally beloved and that it is our responsibility to ensure the preservation and dignity of all. Our lives are intertwined, making COVID-19 vaccines accessible to all is a race to save humanity. 

Our community rejoiced when your Administration rejoined the World Health Organization and pledged resources to global vaccine alliances as one of its first acts. COVID-19 is impervious to borders, wealth, or level of development, and its spread across the globe reminds us, as Pope Francis noted, that we are “all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all.” Over a year after its emergence, the pandemic continues to rage, taking the lives of over a million people and straining human and material resources. As people of faith, we believe it is our moral responsibility to work to save all lives. As these words from the Quran remind us, “If anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole humanity.”

A vaccine must be distributed both equitably and timely, so that every health care and essential worker and those at highest risk of infection are inoculated first regardless of where they live in the world or the level of wealth or development of the country. Failure to do so undermines the world’s capacity to develop herd immunity against the virus. Given the inequities of global distribution thus far, even as the U.S. and other wealthy countries expand vaccinations, without a dramatic change in global manufacturing production, the pandemic will continue to rage in developing countries for years. This lack creates continued health risk for the U.S. as well as developing nations. 

With this in mind, we write today to urge your Administration to undertake the following actions to remove barriers to vaccine production and equitable distribution everywhere: 

•    Since October 2020, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been engaged in discussions regarding whether to invoke an intellectual property rights waiver under the TRIPS Agreement for prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-I9 in order to enable increased production of COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines…[It] is essential that we do not let intellectual property rights create “barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products including vaccines and medicines or to scaling-up of research, development, manufacturing and supply of medical products essential to combat COVID-19.” As a global faith community concerned about the health of vulnerable people around the world, we support this life-saving waiver. 

•     Our best hope rests on continued development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally…  Given the significant investment of U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund vaccines as well as the global crisis at hand, we implore your Administration to use existing legal authority to accelerate global vaccine manufacturing including by sharing vaccine intellectual property with qualified manufacturers around the world and meaningfully supporting efforts to build global manufacturing capacity. The U.S. can lead the way to expand production, thus overcoming scarcity, rationing, and preventable death. 

•    Additionally, we urge your Administration to support the issuance of $2 trillion Special Drawing Rights at the IMF. These new SDRs are needed to help low and middle-income countries to purchase vaccines, locally produce vaccines, and revive their economies to save lives. 

•    Current efforts to respond to COVID-19 are reinforcing existing inequalities within and between countries. Rich countries have bought up much of the current supply of vaccines leaving little access to vaccines for developing countries. Even within wealthy nations, like the United States, the wealthy are securing vaccinations at higher rates than those struggling in poverty. Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, who are about three times more likely to endure COVID-19 related hospitalizations and almost twice as likely to die from the virus compared to white people, do not have adequate access to these lifesaving medicines… We call for just and equal distribution of available vaccines globally and nationally. 

Going forward, the policies of the United States must be one of solidarity with all peoples in order to respect and promote human life and dignity. One year out, we are making progress, but we must remove barriers undermining the pace at which all get access to these life-saving vaccines.§

Read the full letter and list of signatories here: