A health care worker comforts an eldery patient at a hospital in Blackburn, England, May 14, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. CNS photo/Hannah McKay, pool via Reuters

Editorial: Strike right balance

  • February 4, 2021

The World Day of the Sick, first proclaimed by St. Pope John Paul II in 1992, is aligned with three actions: praying for the ill, responding to those in pain, and honouring health care workers and caregivers.

Feb. 11 is set aside to recognize the suffering that is all around us and, as Pope Francis said, to “stop and listen, to establish a direct and personal relationship with others, to feel empathy and compassion, and to let their suffering become our own as we seek to serve them.”

The words take on special significance as nations grapple with COVID-19 and the urgent need to vaccinate vulnerable populations across the globe. But here’s the rub: Money talks.

Relatively rich nations are ramping vaccination programs, as flawed as they might be, and are on their way down the immunity path. Meanwhile, poor nations like those in Africa are waiting for the vaccine crumbs. It is the perfect illustration of global economic inequality at work, and it is costing lives.

Pope Francis warned the world of this pending dilemma in his Christmas message: “We cannot allow the various forms of nationalism closed in on themselves to prevent us from living as the truly human family that we are. Nor can we allow the virus of radical individualism to get the better of us and make us indifferent to the suffering of other brothers and sisters.”

No one is saying Canada needs to sacrifice the lives of our most vulnerable to fulfil a global utopia of vaccine distribution. The fact is Canada has contracts for more than 400 million doses of vaccines, much more than we need. And yes, we have promised to deliver our excess into a pool created by the World Health Organization that might deliver up to two billion doses needed for poorer nations.

WHO has already sounded the alarm that there is a desperate need to begin distribution in low-income countries and there are fears some may have to wait until 2022. To its credit, Canada was one of the first to commit to stepping up to the plate to help others, but when? If we wait until the entire population is vaccinated, how many more in less wealthy countries may die?

“We face a global reality that low-risk people in high-income countries appear poised to be vaccinated before high-risk people in low-income countries,” Jason Nickerson of Doctors Without Borders told The Globe and Mail.

A nation’s instinct to protect and defend its own population is not wrong. That is its job, just as it is its job to be a good global citizen. Striking that balance is crucial.

Pope Francis is challenging nations to “love thy neighbour” with a single purpose: “Vaccines for all, especially for the most vulnerable and needy of all regions of the planet. Before all others: the most vulnerable and needy!”

There has been a constant refrain from leaders around the world ever since this pandemic took hold: “We’re all in this together.”

This is an opportunity to prove that’s really the case.

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