Pope Francis on Wednesday warned against giving the wealthy the priority to receive a coronavirus vaccine, as he cited the worsening inequality between the rich and poor amid the pandemic.
“How sad it would be if, for the vaccine for COVID-19, priority were to be given to the richest,” Francis said during his weekly audience broadcast live from his private Vatican library.
“It would be sad if this vaccine were to become the property of this nation or another, rather than universal and for all,” the leader of the 1.3 billion Catholics around the world said.
“The pandemic is a crisis. You don’t come out of it the same – either better or worse,” the pontiff added in improvised remarks to his planned speech. “We must come out better.”
When the outbreak is over, Francis said, the world can’t return to normalcy if that means social injustice and the degradation of the natural environment.
He stressed that it would be scandalous if all the economic assistance, most of it using public funds, ends up reviving industries that don’t help the indigent or the environment.
“The pandemic has laid bare the difficult situation of the poor and the great inequality that reigns in the world,” Francis said.
“And the virus, while it doesn’t make exceptions among persons, has found in its path, devastating, great inequalities and discrimination,” he said, adding “and it has increased them.”
Francis said response to the contagion must be twofold. On one hand, “it’s indispensable to find the cure for such a small but tremendous virus that brings the entire world to its knees.”
On the other hand, he said, “We must treat a great virus, that of social injustice, of inequality of opportunity, of being marginalized and of lack of protection of the weakest.”
Pharmaceutical companies are racing to develop a vaccine against the disease, which has killed more than 782,000 people worldwide since its emergence in China at the end of December.
Some governments have struck deals with companies, hoping to secure exclusive supplies of the inoculations when developed.
On Tuesday, World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said governments “must prevent vaccine nationalism.”
“The pandemic has exposed the plight of the poor and the great inequality that reigns in the world. And the virus, while it does not distinguish between people, has found, in its devastating path, great inequalities and discrimination. And it has exacerbated them,” he said.
With Post wires