Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby, head of the Anglican Communion, have provided the same message concerning the COVID vaccine: Both advocate for universal and equitable access to vaccines.
Last January, Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby received their first doses of the COVID vaccine within three days of each other — on January 13 and 16, respectively. This coincidence in timing may be anecdotal, but it confirms the sense that, when it comes to the fight against the coronavirus, the two religious leaders are walking hand in hand.
“I want to encourage everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” commented Welby on the day he received the vaccine, arguing that such a move would ease the burden on hospital staff.
The archbishop of Canterbury said he saw this civic act as a response to Christ’s commandment to love one’s neighbor. “Getting the vaccine is part of that commandment: We can show our love for each other by keeping each other safe from this terrible disease,” he said.
For his part, Pope Francis said in a January 10 interview that “from an ethical point of view, everyone should take the vaccine.”
A note from the Vatican’s COVID office published on December 29, 2020, said the same thing, stating that refusing the vaccine could constitute a risk for others.
Briefed on the vaccine’s effectiveness in defeating the pandemic, the two Christian leaders have not stopped there. For months, they have been calling for universal access to the vaccine everywhere. “Vaccine nationalism is the most enormous danger,”Welby said in an interview with La Repubblica on March 30, reiterating that solidarity is essential.
A few weeks earlier, the Archbishop of Canterbury had warned that the coronavirus would not be defeated anywhere until it was defeated everywhere. He also welcomed the British government’s support for the COVAX program — a global initiative led by the WHO to ensure that everyone, regardless of wealth, has access to vaccines against COVID-19.
The same is true of the Vatican.
In a letter to the president of the Pan American Committee of Judges, Pope Francis spoke out against the hoarding of vaccines.
“Even the countries that have vaccinated the most and best need vaccination in other countries to keep their borders open and regain normalcy in international relations,” the pope said. “Those who hoard vaccines, those who put the accent on intellectual property, those who block the provision of medicines are wrong and will ultimately be victims of their myopia.”
These strong positions of the Argentine pontiff have also been accompanied by gestures that back up his words.
During Holy Week, the Vatican launched a vaccination campaign for 1,200 poor people living near St. Peter’s Square. This initiative was in line with the content of the Urbi et Orbi message that Francis delivered on Christmas. He insisted “to the City and to the world” that we must not forget “the most vulnerable and needy of all regions of the planet.”