Thanks to God’s grace and to the work of many, we now have vaccines to protect us from COVID-19.

Last week, Pope Francis headlined an Ad Council public service announcement for the coronavirus vaccine, titled “Unity Across the Americas.” Designed specifically with Hispanic populations in mind, the pope and bishops spoke in Spanish and Portuguese with English subtitles, with a clear message: it is “an act of love” to receive the vaccine.

 

Produced by the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development and the Ad Council, the PSA is part of the Covid Collaborative’s Covid-19 Vaccine Education Initiative. Reaching beyond American borders, this is the first Ad Council PSA to be released outside of the United States, with versions in English, Spanish and Portuguese. 

In a tweet about the campaign, the Ad Council said they “enlisted the help of some of the most trusted messengers who hold unparalleled influence” in reaching Hispanic populations who are underrepresented in current vaccine coverage but overrepresented in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Reflecting disproportionate levels of infection, Hispanic people have received smaller shares of vaccinations compared to their shares of cases in most reporting states.” This matches what Chicago priest Fr. Manuel “Manny” Dorantes, member of the Ad Council’s Faith Leaders task force and the person Newsweek credited with the original idea for the PSA, has observed in his ministry during the pandemic. “With the ongoing pandemic, new variants, and high hesitation rate among Latinos to get vaccinated,” Father Manny told Newsweek, “the question is who do Latinos trust, and not only trust, but how can we make this message get to them in a robust way.” 

That robust message is a direct call from the Holy Father to show love for one another through the “small gesture” of receiving the vaccine: 

Getting the vaccines that are authorized by the respective authorities is an act of love. And helping the majority of people to do so is an act of love. Love for oneself, love for our families and friends, and love for all peoples. […] Getting vaccinated is a simple yet profound way to care for one another, especially the most vulnerable. 

Francis himself was vaccinated against Covid-19, along with Pope-Emeritus Benedict, in January 2021. He has been vocal not only about the moral responsibility of Catholics to receive the vaccine, but also outspoken about global vaccine equity. The message of Francis and his brother bishops in the Americas reaches beyond personal responsibility regarding vaccines: “They bring hope to end the pandemic,” Francis says in the PSA, “but only if they are available to all and if we collaborate with one another.” 

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles reiterated that equity-focused message, saying:  “May God grant us the grace to face [the pandemic] with the strength of faith ensuring that vaccines are available for all so that we can all get immunized.” Clearly and forcefully, Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico adds, “From North to South America we support vaccination for all.” 

“Our choice to get vaccinated affects others. It is a moral responsibility, an act of love for the whole community,” says Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez of El Salvador.

What else has Pope Francis had to say about vaccinations and vaccine equity during the Covid-19 pandemic? For your reference, I have compiled a compendium of the pope’s comments and statements on these issues: 

General Audience, August 19, 2020

It would be sad if, for the vaccine for Covid-19, priority were to be given to the richest! It would be sad if this vaccine were to become the property of this nation or another, rather than universal and for all. 

Address to Members of Banco Farmaceutico Foundation, September 19, 2020:

On an ethical level, if there is the possibility of curing a disease with a drug, it should be available to everyone, otherwise it creates injustice. Too many people, too many children are still dying in the world because they are denied access to a drug that is available in other regions, or a vaccine…it would be sad if, in providing the vaccine, priority were given to the wealthiest, or if this vaccine became the property of this or that country, and was no longer for everyone. It must be universal, for all.

Address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 25, 2020

The pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to promote public health and to make every person’s right to basic medical care a reality. For this reason, I renew my appeal to political leaders and the private sector to spare no effort to ensure access to Covid-19 vaccines and to the essential technologies needed to care for the sick. If anyone should be given preference, let it be the poorest, the most vulnerable, those who so often experience discrimination because they have neither power nor economic resources. 

Message to Pontifical Academy of Sciences October 7, 2020:

Healthcare systems, for example, need to become much more inclusive and accessible to the disadvantaged and those living in low-income countries. If anyone should be given preference, let it be the neediest and most vulnerable among us. Similarly, when vaccines become available, equitable access to them must be ensured regardless of income, always starting with the least.

International Meeting of Prayer for Peace October 20, 2020):

Let us start with achievable goals: may we immediately unite our efforts to contain the spread of the virus until there is a vaccine that is suitable and available to all. The pandemic is reminding us that we are blood brothers and sisters.

Christmas 2020, Urbi et Orbi

Today, in this time of darkness and uncertainty regarding the pandemic, various lights of hope appear, such as the discovery of vaccines. But for these lights to illuminate and bring hope to all, they need to be available to all. 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. I cannot place myself ahead of others, letting the law of the marketplace and patents take precedence over the law of love and the health of humanity. I ask everyone – government leaders, businesses, international organizations – to foster cooperation and not competition, and to seek a solution for everyone: vaccines for all, especially for the most vulnerable and needy of all regions of the planet. Before all others: the most vulnerable and needy!

Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God January 1, 2021)

How important it is to educate our hearts to care, to cherish the persons and things around us.  Everything starts from this: from cherishing others, the world and creation.  What good is it to know many persons and things if we fail to cherish them?  This year, while we hope for new beginnings and new cures, let us not neglect care.  Together with a vaccine for our bodies, we need a vaccine for our hearts.  That vaccine is care.  This will be a good year if we take care of others, as Our Lady does with us.

Message for World Day of Peace, January 1, 2021

I renew my appeal to political leaders and the private sector to spare no effort to ensure access to Covid-19 vaccines and to the essential technologies needed to care for the sick, the poor and those who are most vulnerable.

Interview for Italian television program TG5, January 10, 2021:

I believe that morally everyone must take the vaccine. It is the moral choice because it is about your life but also the lives of others. I do not understand why some say that this could be a dangerous vaccine. If the doctors are presenting this to you as a thing that will go well and doesn’t have any special dangers, why not take it?

Address to Ambassadors to the Vatican, February 8, 2021:

It is likewise essential that the remarkable medical and scientific progress attained over the years – which made it possible to create so quickly vaccines that promise to be effective against the Coronavirus – benefit humanity as a whole. I encourage all states to contribute actively to the international efforts being made to ensure an equitable distribution of the vaccines, based not on purely economic criteria but on the needs of all, especially of peoples most in need.

Even so, before so a devious and unpredictable an enemy as Covid-19, access to vaccines must be accompanied by responsible personal behaviour aimed at halting the spread of the virus, employing the necessary measures of prevention to which we have become accustomed in these months. It would be disastrous to put our trust in the vaccine alone, as if it were a panacea exempting every individual from constant concern for his or her own health and for the health of others. The pandemic has once more shown us that, in the celebrated expression of the English poet John Donne, “no man is an island”, and that “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind”.

Address to Civil Authorities in Baghdad, Iraq, March 5, 2021:

This crisis calls for concerted efforts by all to take necessary steps, including an equitable distribution of vaccines for everyone.

Easter 2021, Urbi et Orbi

Everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us, requires assistance and has the right to have access to necessary care. This is even more evident in these times when all of us are called to combat the pandemic. Vaccines are an essential tool in this fight. I urge the entire international community, in a spirit of global responsibility, to commit to overcoming delays in the distribution of vaccines and to facilitate their distribution, especially in the poorest countries.

Letter of the Holy Father to the participants in the 2021 Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund April 4, 2021:

In this regard, we especially need a justly financed vaccine solidarity, for we cannot allow the law of the marketplace to take precedence over the law of love and the health of all. Here, I reiterate my call to government leaders, businesses and international organizations to work together in providing vaccines for all, especially for the most vulnerable and needy (cf. Urbi et Orbi Message, Christmas Day 2020).

Message to VAX Live, May 8, 2021

In the face of so much darkness and uncertainty, we need light and hope. We need paths of healing and salvation. And I mean healing at the root, healing the cause of the evil and not just the symptoms. In these sick roots we find the virus of individualism, which does not make us freer or more equal or more brotherly or sisterly, but rather makes us indifferent to the suffering of others. And a variant of this virus is closed nationalism, which prevents, for example, an internationalism of vaccines…. God the Creator instills in our hearts a new and generous spirit to abandon our individualism and promote the common good: a spirit of justice that mobilizes us to ensure universal access to vaccines and the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights; a spirit of communion that allows us to generate a different, more inclusive, just and sustainable economic model.


Image: Screenshot from “Unity Across the Americas,” captured via YouTube.


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Rachel Amiri is a graduate from the University of Notre Dame with degrees in Theology and Political Science. Formerly Editor-in-Chief of a campus newspaper, Rachel has worked in the areas of publishing and as an Creighton Model practioner.

Pope Francis: Vaccination Is an Act of Love
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