The gift of a COVID vaccination
Last week, I received my first vaccine dose for the novel coronavirus. As I did, I felt a flood of emotions.
Contributed by Archbishop and Primate Linda Nicholls,
Anglican Church of Canada
A vaccine is a promise for a future without all of the restrictions we may be living under, so I was delighted and relieved at taking this first step. But even in that moment, I felt guilty that I have this privilege and sense of security, in a world where many may never see a COVID vaccination at all, or at least not for several years.
While some countries desperately seek access to the vaccines, there is resistance among some Canadians to receiving it and, in the midst of anxiety and fear, rumours and misinformation are rampant. Every day of life contains risks. There are no guarantees in any part of our lives, so we work to reduce the risks and make the world as safe as possible for ourselves and all of our neighbours. This requires trust in those to whom we have committed the work of protecting public health and a willingness to work with them to follow protocols.
We begin with ourselves: following public health advice; social distancing; wearing masks; and, worshipping only in ways that are permitted — be it online or in smaller groups. We modify our behaviour to keep distance from strangers and we respect the differing risk tolerances of friends, colleagues and family.
We know that global economic, social and health inequities exist, and have been exacerbated by the current pandemic. As Anglicans, we work with government and development agencies to see those inequities eliminated—though at an admittedly slow pace. Vaccine inequity is even more urgent and threatens everyone. Viruses know no borders and we know that the provision of COVID vaccines in every part of the country, and the world, is the best way currently to slow down the transmission of the virus and stay ahead of the evolution of more serious variants.
As Christians, however, our concern extends well beyond just self-preservation. It is rooted in our baptismal covenant. We have promised to love our neighbour as ourselves, to respect the dignity of every human being and to seek justice and peace for all, as Christ did during his ministry on Earth. Seeking vaccine equity is not optional, it is commanded by our baptismal promises.
I am very grateful that the rollout of vaccine in Canada has prioritized high risk groups including Indigenous peoples, particularly in light of the other inequities that make many communities more vulnerable (i.e., inadequate housing, lack of clean water, insufficient access to medical care). Residents of long-term care, incarcerated people, and those experiencing homelessness or unstable housing are also especially vulnerable and have been identified as priority groups for vaccination. Yet there continue to be communities and populations, including many frontline workers and racialized communities, experiencing a lack of access to vaccines—despite their increased risks. I know our public health and government officials are trying to balance the complexities of vaccine priority under the pressures of high demand across Canada, and I trust that they will continue to apply a lens of equity to this distribution.
Recently, I participated in a webinar through Government Relations Office of The Episcopal Church. Archbishop Thabo Makgoba was a fellow panelist and urged us that ‘everyone deserves more than the crumbs under the table when others are eating a full loaf of bread’. Many wealthier nations, including ours, reserved and paid for multiple kinds of vaccines, well ahead of their availability. The Government of Canada reserved more than we would need for our population, in order to ensure availability quickly. Millions of doses of vaccines will be received in Canada in the next few months and willing Canadians expect to be vaccinated by the end of September. There will be excess vaccine — what will be done with it?
Some countries — including India and South Africa — want to produce vaccine locally, but international trade protections for intellectual property rights (TRIPS agreement) inhibit that capability. Canada thus far, along with other wealthy nations, has resisted a proposal for a temporary waiver on trade restrictions for vaccines, which would allow production to happen quickly, locally and increase the supply at a reduced cost.
We must ask how we can share the benefits of health care and vaccinations many of us enjoy, with others who need it. We must speak up to advocate for those parts of the world that are often left with only the “crumbs”. Canada will have excess vaccine — will we donate it to other nations? Will our government do its part to provide increased funds to COVAX to ensure that availability? Will we ask for a temporary suspension of trade restrictions (which currently control the price of the vaccine) so that production can reach heavily populated areas?
There are ways you can help.
- Contact local authorities to ensure that vaccinations are easily accessible to the people in your community, particularly the most vulnerable.
- Write to the Prime Minister and your Member of Parliament and tell them you want Canada to ensure vaccine equity through sharing excess vaccines; funding COVAX more than already promised; suspending the TRIPS agreement to allow faster, cheaper vaccine production globally, given a growing concern of how there may be further mutations of the COVID 19 virus, making it even more urgent to vaccinate in all countries.
- When you receive your vaccine, “Pay it forward” and make a donation to the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) Vaccine Equity Fund. Your gift will support PWRDF partners in the most vulnerable parts of the world as they prepare for vaccination rollout, including work already underway to supply PPE, thermometers, sanitation and hand-washing facilities, and accurate public health information. Donations to this Vaccine Equity Fund may also support the “Love My Neighbour” movement. Click here to donate to the PWRDF Vaccine Equity Fund.
Vaccine equity is a fundamental expression of the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) through which we demonstrate our love of God and of neighbour. What will you do?