COVID-19 has taken the lives of more than 3.4 million people, of the more than 160 million people infected, and an estimated 124 million people have been forced into extreme poverty since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 (while during the pandemic period the total wealth of billionaires worldwide rose by $5tn to $13tn in 12 months, the most dramatic surge ever registered).
At the same time, the world has made unprecedented rapid progress in understanding the disease and in developing reliable diagnostics, therapeutic methods and highly effective vaccines.
This progress was only possible because of the global scientific community's non-partisan collaboration, sharing knowledge and information, even as national borders were sealed. Never before have so many experts in so many countries focused simultaneously on a single topic and with such urgency.
This has in turn been enabled by massive investment by governments with public funds, and from the philanthropic sector, subsidising scientific research, development and testing, building manufacturing capacities, and securing advance purchase agreements for vaccines and diagnostics.
However, of the approximately 1.4 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses so far administered, over 80% have been in upper-income countries, while only 0.4% of the doses have been administered in low-income countries . A few rich countries have secured for themselves most of the anticipated supply, leaving little for the less wealthy nations. While some wealthier countries have been generous in sharing their vaccine supplies, others have placed orders for enough doses to vaccinate their entire population several times over and promised to share only after they have completed their own vaccination programmes, perpetuating the pattern of patronage that sustains inequity and injustice.
Some 11 billion doses are required to vaccinate 70% of the world's population, assuming two doses per person. By this measure and based on current projections of availability - constrained by both lack of production capacity and vaccine hoarding by some producing states - researchers estimate that it could take two or more years for people in the lowest-income groups to be vaccinated.
Only by intervening globally, applying the effective tools available now, making them universally accessible to one and all in all regions, with justice and equity, can we defeat this pandemic.
Even if individual countries manage to control and eliminate outbreaks within their own borders, so long as the virus is allowed to circulate and spread unchecked anywhere the disease will remain a threat to our life in community everywhere. And as long as the virus continues to circulate in communities anywhere, the risk of new variants emerging against which vaccines might be less effective will remain, together with the prospect of the pandemic and its consequences in terms of illness, death and disruption of our societies continuing for years to come. No one is safe until everyone is safe. Indeed, as Christians we believe that humanity is one body (1 Corinthians 12:12), and if one part of it suffers it affects the whole body, and the whole body is called to act in solidarity.
From our experience in dealing with the HIV pandemic, we have learned the importance of making prevention, treatment and care accessible and affordable for all. When the HIV pandemic emerged in the 1980s, life-saving antiretrovirals were developed rapidly, and yet a decade passed before they became available in sub-Saharan Africa. We cannot repeat the painful mistakes from the early AIDS response, when people in wealthier countries got back to health, while millions of people in developing countries were left behind.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has been a major stress test of multilateral cooperation and human solidarity. The vast and persistent inequity in access to and distribution of firstly protective and diagnostic products and now the approved vaccines is the result of morally unconscionable and short-sighted nationalism, and is clear evidence that we are failing this test.
As Christians, we cannot accept this outcome. We confess the God-given dignity and worth of every human being (Genesis 1:27), that every person is entitled to experience the unconditional love of God, and that nothing in this world - even a pandemic - can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8: 37-39). Moreover, we are commanded to love our neighbours as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31). Our faith calls us to seek out and care for the weakest and most vulnerable among us. (Isaiah 1:17; James 1:27).
 Updated estimates of the impact of COVID-19 on global poverty: Looking back at 2020 and the outlook for 2021 https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/updated-estimates-impact-covid-19-global-poverty-looking-back-2020-and-outlook-2021
 The billionaire boom, FT Weekend, 15/16 May 2021
 Big Pharma takes it all: A Public Eye Report, March 2021:
 Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 9 April 2021
 I Run the W.H.O., and I Know That Rich Countries Must Make a Choice, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, April 22 2021, Opinion Piece, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/22/opinion/who-covid-vaccines.html
 What it will take to vaccinate the world against COVID-19- Aisling Irwin, Nature, 25 March 2021, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00727-3
 The coronavirus is here to stay — here’s what that means; Nature - 16 February 2021: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00396-2