Vaccine woes add to issues in Global South

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

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY, (Catholic News Service) — 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.”

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