For a year and a half, Pope Francis has been very active in his support for vaccines against Covid-19. He has especially urged leaders to “not forget the most vulnerable,” those who are suffering the most from the pandemic. He also has called for “vaccine internationalism,” stressing that poor countries must be given access to the shots.
But beyond this, in practice, what has the Vatican done to turn these words into actions?
(See the statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on vaccine ethics, here.)
1Pope Francis has donated respirators and health equipment
In February 2020, during the first days of the pandemic, Pope Francis sent thousands of masks to China to help contain the COVID-19 outbreak. The following month, after the virus had spread to Europe, the pontiff donated 30 respirators to intensive care units in Italy and Spain. Since then he has continued to send sanitary equipment and respirators to nations that have struggled to contain the pandemic. Among the countries who have received this aid in the last year are Colombia, Brazil, South Africa, Syria, India and others.
The Office of Papal Charities is the entity that has managed these operations and other efforts of the Vatican. Headed by Apostolic Almoner, or papal almsgiver, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, this Vatican Office is in charge of offering charity assistance in the name of the Pope.
2Pope Francis has created charity funds and donated money
In April 2020 Pope Francis instituted an emergency fund through the Pontifical Missions Societies to help areas across the world that were struggling to counter the pandemic. The Pontifical Missions Societies are all the Catholic missionary societies under the jurisdiction of the Pope and are mostly located in Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Amazon. The pontiff contributed $750,000 as an initial donation to the fund and since then 41 interventions to offer aid have been carried out across the world. Their site has a list of all the diocese that have received help.
In June 2020 he also established the fund “Gesù Divino Lavoratore” to help workers in Rome who were having economic troubles due to the pandemic. This fund was administered by the Diocese and Caritas of Rome in partnership with the municipal and regional government. The Pontiff had donated €1 million to the fund and then the city and region government added €500,000 more each. Private individuals and enterprises then donated another €200,000. In one year these funds assisted around 2500 people by helping pay their expenses or offering training courses.
3The Vatican has advocated for universal vaccine access at international organizations
In February 2021 the then Vatican Permanent Observer to the UN and Other International Organizations, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, called for an easing of the intellectual property rights of COVID-19 vaccines, in order to grant their universal access, at the World Trade Organization’s Council on the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Then in July 2021 the Holy See reiterated this claim at the United Nations Human Rights Council saying they supported a “a waiver on intellectual property rights” of the COVID-19 vaccines to ensure low-income countries could produce the inoculations as well.
4The Vatican has held its own vaccination campaign for the vulnerable and homeless
Other than donating health equipment, the Office of Papal Charities has also been in charge of managing the Vatican’s vaccination campaign for the vulnerable and homeless. The initiative started in January 2021 and has vaccinated almost 1500 people; many are homeless and live in the area surrounding the Vatican and may not have access to normal health care institutions.
5Encouraged everyone at the Vatican to get vaccinated
In a directive signed by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the Vatican’s governor, on February 8, the world’s smallest state strongly encouraged all of its’ employees to get vaccinated in order to protect the health of all those who work and live at the Vatican.