Global interfaith prayers for COVID-19 vaccine equity, while Germany blocks at the WTO

July 28, 2021: Faith leaders from across the globe and from numerous faith traditions gathered together on July 20 both on Zoom and with some 100 participants in person on the National Mall in Washington DC to urge President Joe Biden to share COVID-19 vaccine stockpiles and to advocate for equitable global distribution of vaccines.

“Unless the pandemic is over for all of us, it is not over for any one of us,” said Mathews George Chunakara, the General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, addressing the assembly via Zoom.

The Interfaith Vigil for Global COVID-19 Vaccine Access called on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive rules for 20-year monopoly patents for vaccine manufacturing in order to enable more countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines domestically. The WTO is meeting in Geneva this week and next week.

“World leaders have to make a decision,” Laura Peralta-Schulte from Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice told Religion News Service. “Are they going to protect pharmaceutical companies’ profits or share vaccine technology and end the pandemic?”

Meanwhile, the Public Services International – a trade union group – focused action on German Chancellor Angela Merkel because of her stand against fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

The PSI contrasted the scenes last month of Germans crammed into the Allianz Stadium in Munich to watch their team play, and hospital beds and exhausted health workers setting up the Mandela National Stadium in Kampala, Uganda, for COVID-19 patients.

The German Government is actively blocking the proposal backed by Uganda, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Biden-Harris administration and more than 100 countries supporting the waiver  of monopoly patents on COVID-19 vaccines to enable ramping up of global production to end the pandemic. Uganda has just 4,000 people fully vaccinated, compared to Germany's 31 million. As dangerous new variants take hold, infection rates across Africa are now surging faster than all earlier peaks.

When Angela Merkel visited Joe Biden last week, there were over a dozen demonstrations outside German Consulates across the country. This marks the biggest wave of protests against a US "ally" nation in years.

Merkel’s dogged defence of big-pharma monopolies puts her completely out of line with the WHO, whose leader Dr Tedros has called for urgent waivers. It undermines the credibility of the WTO, where Germany (along with a handful of other countries including Australia) is derailing waiver talks.

The PSI argues that Merkel’s position is also damaging the European Union’s reputation, both domestically and internationally. The European Parliament supports the waiver, as does France, Italy and Spain.

The PSI represents health workers across the globe who are furious that Big-Pharma monopolies are undermining their ability to save lives by blocking the scaling up of vaccine production. This week, unions from 150 countries called for Germany to stop blocking progress, saying “our members are the health care workers who have sacrificed much, too often with their lives. We wish to make clear that governments who prioritise the profits of large pharmaceutical companies over protecting lives are making a mockery of their sacrifice.”

Research shows that 70 per cent of Germans want their country to support making the vaccine a public good. The PSI urged Chancellor Merkel to finally put people's lives ahead of private pharma profits.