View of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine boxes at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, England, Jan. 2, 2021. CNS photo/Gareth Fuller, pool via Reuters

Vaccine woes add to issues in Global South

By  Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service
  • February 17, 2021

VATICAN CITY -- When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, Pope Francis warned it could make inequalities existing around the world even worse.

While the discovery of COVID-19 vaccines offered a spark of hope for a world seeking a way back to normalcy, Aloysius John, secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis, said what Pope Francis warned about can be seen in the geographical distribution of the vaccines.

“Pope Francis was a prophet when he said this, but today we are living it,” John told Catholic News Service.

While wealthier countries in the Global North are systematically vaccinating people, John said, the poorer countries of the Global South are trying to figure out how to pay for some doses.

The global network of Catholic charities has been taking every opportunity to remind the international community that “the poor matter also in the vaccine,” he said.

Another challenge, he said, is preparing poor countries, who “will be last on the list,” for the eventual arrival of the vaccine, since many lack the infrastructure to safely stock and preserve it.

Pfizer said its vaccine needs to be stored at between -80 and -60 Celsius while Moderna said its vaccine must be kept frozen at between -25 and -15 C.

“Everything is not the Global North,” John said. “So, if you look at the Global South, where it is 40 degrees (C) in the shade, how can you think of storing a vaccine at -60 degrees?”

But vaccine access, storage and distribution are not the only problems, John said. The pandemic is a “protracted crisis” that has hampered people’s ability to “find the means to live, to find the means to survive.”

And, he said, access to education is another challenge for vulnerable populations who don’t have access to digital forms of communication.

“For example, in Iran, (with) the digital way of teaching people today, more than 60 per cent are left out,” John said.

Hunger, poverty, forced migration, domestic violence and human trafficking all are on the rise because of the pandemic, he said, and Catholic charities are trying to respond.

In countries like Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with a decade-long war and several natural disasters created a perfect storm of crises that have engulfed the country. Andrij Waskowycz, president of Caritas Ukraine, told CNS that on top of the 3.1 million people in need of humanitarian aid due to the war, the pandemic further “deteriorated the social situation because many people could not work for a long time and could not provide for their families.”

Although Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky announced a rollout of the vaccine sometime in February, Waskowycz said there is still no clear understanding of how the government will deal “with all these crises in one of the poorest countries in Europe.”

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