Blogcast: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Global Solidarity

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Gerald Grudzen reflects on the stark inequity that exist among the world’s nations in regards to access to the Covid-19 vaccine and on how Pope Francis’ encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” provides a vision for the kind of global solidarity needed to end the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Doctor Gerald Grudzen teaches courses in Philosophy and World Religions for San Jose City College. He has authored or co-authored eight books in Philosophy and Religion. He received the Templeton Foundation award for his book on Spirituality and Science. He also serves as President of Global Ministries University which has developed an interfaith education program for Kenyan educators since 2012. His most recent book is Pope Francis: Conscience of the World.

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The paradox of developed nations achieving the vaccination of most of their citizens against COVID-19 and the scarcity of the vaccines in many less-developed nations provides us with a picture of the imbalance that exists in global health care. The irony of some citizens refusing to take the vaccine in developed nations and the lack of vaccines in other parts of the world indicate that the global human community needs to find ways to share its resources to benefit the maximum number of people around the world and end the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.  Pope Francis has addressed many of these issues in his encyclical, Fratelli Tutti.

“Vaccine nationalism” has also complicated access to the vaccine. Countries with financial resources like US and the UK can contract directly with the companies that have developed vaccines to supply them to their own populations.  Poorer countries are now relying on the system developed by COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) which is part of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and the World Health Organization to coordinate the distribution of vaccines to low and middle-income countries around the world.

Another factor has been the politicization of the pandemic during the regimes of populist leaders such as Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. Pope Francis has addressed the challenge of populism in Fratelli Tutti as well as economic neo-liberalism.

Lack of concern for the vulnerable can hide behind a populism that exploits them demagogically for its own purposes, or a liberalism that serves the economic interests of the powerful. In both cases, it becomes difficult to envisage an open world that makes room for everyone, including the most vulnerable, and shows respect for different cultures. (Section 155 of Fratelli Tutti)

Often conservative and populist political ideologies join with religious fundamentalists to question or oppose scientifically based policies and treatments. There are about 41 million white evangelical adults in the U.S. About 45% said that they would not get vaccinated against Covid-19. As worrisome virus variants develop, the problem takes on new urgency. The challenge is further complicated by long-standing distrust between SOME evangelicals and the scientific community.  White Evangelical Resistance Is Obstacle in Vaccination Effort – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in East Africa has been particularly difficult for the nation of Kenya which has relied on tourism from the western world for much of its GDP.  A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) policy brief assesses the possible vulnerabilities and impacts on Kenya of the COVID-19 pandemic. This policy identifies the COVID-19 pandemic impact on the economy, poverty and inequality, women and girls, refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and migrants, education, food security and nutrition, and governance and security.

International cooperation is threatened by rising myopic, extremist, resentful, and aggressive nationalism. Pope Francis focuses on local conflicts that are exploited by the global economy. The global economic culture may unify the world, “but divides persons and nations” linked to “a moral deterioration that influences international action and a weakening of spiritual values and responsibility,” contributing, in turn, to “a general feeling of frustration, isolation, and desperation.” Fratelli Tutti in the Time of COVID-19: Inspiration, Challenges, and Questions (georgetown.edu)

Hopefully, recent efforts to expand the efforts of COVAX to reach the most vulnerable populations in the world will help to fulfill the vision that Pope Francis put forth in Fratelli TuttiThe success of the COVAX vaccine distribution program can serve as a template for other forms of cooperation between the developed and developing nations of the world.

Global Ministries University will be addressing these concerns during a free online international interreligious conference, “Building Human Solidarity in Light of Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti” on August 19, 20, 21, 2021. We invite you to join us!

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