Vaccines were developed as a public good and must be provided to all in a fair and equitable manner, giving priority to those who need them most.
This is what the Vatican’s Covid-19 Commission and the Pontifical Academy for Life have highlighted in a joint document that discusses the essential role of the anti-covid vaccine to defeat the pandemic.
Referring to the Pope’s recent Christmas Message, world leaders are exhorted to reject the temptation to promote “various forms of nationalism” regarding the vaccine, and to cooperate in its distribution. As he said on 25 December, “for these lights to illuminate and bring hope to all, they need to be available to all.”
Justice, solidarity and inclusion are the main criteria to be followed in order to meet the challenges posed by this worldwide emergency.
The Note describes the criteria set out by Pope Francis in his General Audience on 19 August for positively evaluating companies that deserve our support: that they “contribute to the inclusion of the excluded, to the promotion of the least, to the common good and the care of creation”.
The indispensable guide, therefore, is the “broad horizon that evokes the principles of the Church’s Social Doctrine, such as human dignity and the preferential option for the poor, solidarity and subsidiarity, the common good and the care of the common home, and justice and the universal destination of goods.”
Research, production and biological materials
It is not only the final moment of vaccine administration that needs to be considered. Its entire “life cycle” must be taken into account.
The first steps along this path concern research and production. One often-raised question concerns the biological materials used in vaccine development. “According to the available information, some of the vaccines that are now ready to be approved or applied use cell lines from voluntarily aborted foetuses in more phases of the process, while others use them in specific laboratory tests.”
Recently the Pontifical Academy for Life addressed this issue in two notes that exclude, amongst other things, a morally relevant cooperation between those who make use of these vaccines and the practice of voluntary abortion.
Therefore, the document reads, “while the commitment to ensuring that every vaccine has no connection in its preparation to any material originating from an abortion, the moral responsibility to vaccinate is reiterated in order to avoid serious health risks for children and the general population.”
The issue of production is also linked to that of vaccine patents, because a vaccine is not an existing natural resource, “but an invention produced by human ingenuity.”
Given its function, the document notes, “it is appropriate to consider the vaccine as a good to which everyone should have access, without discrimination, according to the principle of the universal destination of goods highlighted by Pope Francis“. As he said in his Christmas Message, “We [cannot] allow the virus of radical individualism to get the better of us and make us indifferent to the suffering of other brothers and sisters … letting the law of the marketplace and patents take precedence over the law of love and the health of humanity.”
The sole purpose of commercial exploitation, according to the document released by the Vatican Covid-19 Commission and the Pontifical Academy of Life, is not ethically acceptable in the field of medicine and healthcare.
“Investments in the medical field should find their deepest meaning in human solidarity.” Thus, it continues, “we ought to identify appropriate systems that favour transparency and cooperation, rather than antagonism and competition. It is therefore vital to overcome the logic of ‘vaccine nationalism’, understood as an attempt by various States to own the vaccine in more rapid timeframes”. It also points to the industrial production of the vaccine as a “collaborative undertaking between states, pharmaceutical companies and other organizations”.
Approval and administration
After the experimental phases, another crucial step is regulatory approval, under emergency conditions, of the vaccine by the relevant authorities, enabling it to be placed on the market and used in different countries. “It is necessary to coordinate the procedures necessary to achieve this objective and promote mutual recognition between the relevant regulatory authorities” the document says.
With regard to administration, the Vatican Covid-19 Commission and the Pontifical Academy for Life support the convergent positions on the priorities for vaccination, which would give precedence to professionals “engaged in services of common interest, in particular health personnel” as well as those involved in “activities that require contact with the public (such as school and public security), vulnerable groups (such as the elderly, or people with particular pathologies)”.
This criterion, the document points out, “does not resolve all situations. A grey area remains, for example, when defining the priorities of vaccine implementation within the very same risk group”.
Vaccine distribution also requires a set of tools to allow “universal accessibility”. A distribution programme needs to be developed that “takes account of the collaboration needed to deal with logistical-organizational obstacles in areas that are not easily accessible (cooling chains, transport, healthcare workers, the use of new technologies, etc.)”.
The document adds, “The World Health Organization remains an important reference point — to be strengthened and improved — regarding the emerging problematic issues”.
Vaccines and ethical questions
Regarding the moral responsibility to undergo vaccination, the Vatican Covid-19 Commission and the Pontifical Academy for Life reiterate that this issue involves “involves the relationship between personal health and public health, showing their close interdependence…. Refusal of the vaccine may also constitute a risk to others. This also applies if, in the absence of an alternative, the motivation is to avoid benefiting from the results of a voluntary abortion”.
“On the other hand, becoming ill leads to an increase in hospitalizations, with subsequent overload for health systems, up to a possible collapse, as has happened in various countries during this pandemic. This hinders access to health care which, once again, affects those who have fewer resources”.
A safe and effective vaccine, available to all and priced so as to allow fair distribution: these are the priorities to ensure a global treatment that also takes into account and enhances local situations: “we aim to develop resources to assist local Churches in preparing for this vaccine initiative and treatment protocols to those in their particular communities”.
Spread across the globe, the Church places itself at the service of “healing the world” by using its voice “to speak, exhort and contribute to assuring that quality vaccines and treatments are available to the global family, especially the vulnerable”.
Building a post-covid world
Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (DPIHD), who leads the Vatican Covid-19 Commission said, “We are grateful to the scientific community for developing the vaccine in record time. It is now up to us to ensure that it is available to all, especially the most vulnerable. It is a matter of justice. This is the time to show we are one human family”.
“The interconnectedness that binds humanity has been revealed by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy of Life. “Together with the Commission, we are working with many partners to point out lessons the human family can learn and to develop an ethics of risk and solidarity to protect the most vulnerable in society”.
Monsignor Bruno Marie Duffé, Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development describes this as a crucial phase. “We are at a turning point in the Covid-19 pandemic and have an opportunity to start to define the world we want to see post-pandemic”.
“The way in which vaccines are deployed – where, to whom, and for how much – ” Father Augusto Zampini, Adjunct Secretary of the Dicastery adds, “is the first step for global leaders to take in committing to fairness and justice as the principles for building a better post- Covid world”.