Vaccine nationalism and the spirit of Holy WeekWednesday, March 31, 2021
As free societies, we elect leaders to conduct our affairs, but one of the things that has become abundantly clear during this pandemic is the inadequacy of leadership to meet the demands of the day. The most notorious and extreme examples of this can be seen among those who did not take the virus seriously, who trafficked all kinds of conspiracy theories, lies, falsehoods, and scientific inaccuracies to explain away the virus, or touted cures that were not established by the scientific community as workable.
People around the world have had to face the harsh truth that they cannot put all their dependence on governments, but that they need an informed and engaged citizenry to be at the forefront of the changes they seek. Where there is not this citizen activism we will see the consequences of poor, if not imbecilic leadership. This was evident in the United States under Donald Trump, to Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, to the now deceased John Magafuli of Tanzania. They played down the danger posed by the virus and failed to encourage their populations to wear masks, which has proven to be one of the most effective mechanisms to arrest the spread of the virus.
Fortunately, more enlightened presidential leadership in the United States has given that country hope that there is some light appearing at the end of the tunnel. Brazil is facing tragedy as the cases of infection are mounting with the attendant hospitalisation occurring. The health system is on the verge of collapse and even the funeral industry is at its limits in coping with the unusual demand for burials. Hopefully, more enlightened leadership will emerge in Tanzania.
At the other end of the spectrum is the unnecessary fight that is developing in the development and deployment of vaccines across the globe. Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), has called attention to the imbalance, if not the inequity, seen in the global distribution of vaccines and has pleaded with the richer countries not to hoard vaccines. Up to late last week, he indicated that 36 countries are yet to receive a single dose, while some rich nations are understood to have stocked five times the dosage their people require.
This emerging phenomenon is called vaccine nationalism and may yet be one of the sorriest features of this pandemic. It is deeply rooted in unenlightened self-interest. It may be true that “parson christen him pickney fus,” but this makes little sense in a raging pandemic in which “parson pickney” will not be spared the ravages of a disease because there are so many who are not able to get their lives back together.
One of the reasons the virus spread as quickly as it did across the globe is that people now have a greater ability and facility to move from one country to another. The coronavirus was discovered in a nondescript province in China in December and by March the entire world was in lockdown mode.
International well-being and prosperity are inextricably linked to the global community developing herd immunity against the virus. Thus, it is illogical that, because of your wealth and international prestige, you race to get ahead of the game and leave so many of your brothers and sisters grasping for crumbs. And this should be dangerous to your own self-interest in a globalised community. We have to help each other. Lower and middle-income countries must be given a fighting chance to access vaccines for their populations, and the sooner the better, for all our sakes.
This speaks to the spirit of Holy Week, with its insistence on redemptive love as the defining feature of human relationships. Whatever else we are, we are first and foremost human beings, with basic needs and drives. We were created to share and work with each other for the common good within defined geographical borders called nations, but also within a wider global community of like-minded beings. We do not get to ignore the suffering of others without suffering the consequences of such ignorance.
Those who know or have experienced the love of God know that they will be impacted by the suffering of others, just as God in Christ was able to empathise with all our weaknesses (Hebrews 4: 15). The person who knows the love of God will be revolted by vaccine nationalism. He or she will rightly see this as a violation of the love ethic for which one may yet pay a great price. We violate the demands of the love commandment to our own peril. To love one's neighbour is not a mere philosophical appeal about what is reasonable about human relationships. It has practical implications for how we live our lives on a daily basis. Thus, a person who loves will be concerned about the welfare of others. I find it interesting and sometimes revolting how readily even Christian people speak about Christian love, and yet fail to be loving when situations demand it.
There is often a great gulf fixed between that which is vocalised and that which is actualised. There needs to be a narrowing of the gap between what we say and what we do. Faith without works is dead, the Apostle James reminds us. For three weekends the country is under lockdown because of the spread of the virus and its impact on all our lives. I cannot help but see a relationship between our professed love for God and the neighbour and our cavalier regard for the safety protocols which can keep us all safe. We talk a good Christian talk, but when it comes to doing, we are often found lacking.
God acted in sending His Son to die on the cross, the strongest statement of redemptive suffering that we can ever know. This action has a peculiar message for us at this time of immense suffering under the pandemic. It is a message that God stands in solidarity with us in our pain; that he has not abandoned us; that in the midst of immense suffering there is hope of eternal life, even if death should be the result. I hope this week, as we are under lockdown, we will spare a greater thought for where we are in regard to our loving appreciation of those around us; not just our families or friends, but for the complete stranger who needs our help. Jesus never had to know us to die for us. There is a redeeming quality in that kind of love.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storms and Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life . Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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