COVID-19 Vaccines: Inoculating the World
EPPN Health Care Series Part 5
O most mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succor. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
-1928 Book of Common Prayer
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tremendous cross for the whole world to bear. Hundreds of millions have contracted the virus; millions have died. The world has been turned upside down for all of us. Yet light has appeared at the end of the tunnel in the form of the vaccines.
The Episcopal Church supports vaccine access and equity. In 2019 Executive Council approved a resolution calling for stronger government mandates to ensure all Americans receive inoculations against preventable diseases. The resolution reads in part “… the proper and responsible use of vaccines is a duty not only to our own selves and families but to our communities. Choosing to not vaccinate, when it is medically safe, threatens the lives of others.” The Office of Government Relations recently held a webinar with global Anglican Communion partners to highlight the importance of vaccine access around the world.
Global Vaccine Access
At the global level, equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines has been a challenge. At this point in the pandemic, low- and middle-income countries account for most COVID-19 deaths, at around 85 percent. Very few vaccine doses have gone to low-income countries to date. Many rich countries, including the United States and China, have engaged in large-scale vaccine donations. Most vaccine donation continues to go through COVAX, the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access program, which is led by the World Health Organization and several other NGOs.
Despite the important work being done by COVAX and other international actors, donation efforts will remain inadequate without boosting local vaccine manufacturing by sharing intellectual property rights, raw materials, and the technologies needed to manufacture vaccines and diagnostics tools. We must continue to advocate for waiving pharmaceutical patents and patents on technologies required to produce vaccines. Rich countries must also continue donating vaccines to ensure fair and equal distribution across the world.
The vaccine rollout in the United States has gone relatively well. President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed led to the development of several safe, effective vaccines within a calendar year. Under the leadership of President Joe Biden, the United States vaccinated more than 200 million people by mid-April 2021. Vaccinations continue apace, although the United States fell short of President Biden’s goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the adult population by Independence Day (although 20 states did meet or exceed that goal by July 4).
Vaccine hesitancy continues to be a major challenge in getting inoculations to the remaining holdout Americans. A great deal of misinformation about the vaccines continues to circulate throughout the country. Many people distrust vaccines due to unfounded fears about vaccines causing other types of illness or vaccines being ineffective. Some are concerned about the speed with which the COVID-19 vaccines have been developed. Some people are not worried about COVID-19 and do not see the urgency of getting inoculated. Many African Americans and Indigenous Americans have lingering fears associated with a history of unethical medical experimentation and exploitation of their communities. Regardless of the cause, vaccine hesitancy remains a major roadblock on our path to crushing the virus.
Equity concerns also play an important role in the U.S. vaccine rollout. Limited health infrastructure in underserved communities makes reaching those communities more difficult. From day one the Biden Administration has made equitable access to vaccines a top priority in its vaccine rollout plan. The president’s American Rescue Plan directed more than $10 billion to both expand vaccine access to hard-hit, high-risk communities and to combat vaccine hesitancy in those same communities. The administration is also engaged in a number of innovative public relations campaigns to reach underserved communities, including a new partnership to bring vaccine education and doses to more than a thousand Black-owned barbershops and beauty salons, building on a successful pilot program in Maryland.
Despite the administration’s best efforts, vaccine hesitancy and access issues will continue to plague the nation’s recovery from the pandemic. No single silver bullet exists to spread the vaccine to all holdout Americans. We must continue both our individual and collective efforts to encourage our fellow Americans to get the jab. The three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use by the FDA are free, safe, and effective. It is our Christian duty, as Executive Council noted in 2019, to respect not only our own lives but the lives of our loved ones and those in our communities by accepting the scientific evidence and getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
- Episcopal Church Toolkit for COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution
- Global Vaccine Access: Ensuring Equity for all God’s Children
- Tracking Coronavirus Vaccinations Around the World from the New York Times
- FACT SHEET: President Biden to Announce National Month of Action
- COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy: 12 Things You Need to Know from Johns Hopkins
- Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines
Executive Council Resolutions
The Office of Government Relations