Photo credit: Marcelo Schneider / World Council of Churches

VACCINE CHAMPIONS SPONSORED by the World Council of Churches (WCC) have shared their reflections on the status of vaccines in their home contexts, as well as the important role churches are playing in moving toward vaccine equity.

The comments come ahead of a high-level conference, hosted by the Foundation Dialogue for Peace and moderated by Norway’s former prime minister, Mr Kjell Magne Bondevik, the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Muslim World League and the World Health Organisation today (Monday 30 August), in which participants will share experiences with ministers, ambassadors, politicians, peace associations and the media.

To coincide with World Immunisation Week back on 24 April 2021, nine church leaders from different continents assumed their roles as Vaccine Champions. They joined a team of 300 specially assigned Vaccine Champions, mobilised by UNICEF, to raise awareness on the benefits of immunisation.

Dr Jørgen Skov Sørensen, General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches, said that many churches in Europe have observed general Covid-related regulations in order to take measures to protect people’s health.

“Some have gone further, however, and I was particularly touched seeing some Anglican cathedrals offering space as vaccination centres while adding to the jabbing soothing organ music”, he explained.

Meanwhile, the Rev Dr Fidon Mwombeki, General Secretary of the All Africa Conference Of Churches, said that more and more people in the region are rejecting conspiracy theories against vaccines and vaccination. “There is more acceptance of the vaccines,” he said. “However, the biggest problem seems to be supply constraints.”

Mwombeki said that, in many African countries, there are few vaccine doses available. “When a country has vaccinated less than one per cent of its population due to lack of resources and availability, talks of booster shots are a great demonstration of inequality and the illusion of the ‘global community’ ”, he said.

“Churches have been on the forefront to convince people to accept the vaccine, by debunking wrong teachings, and practically providing vaccine services particularly in rural areas where their health facilities are based.”

In the United States, where Covid-19 cases are again rising, Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, said variants and vaccine resistance are posing a big challenge. “Many people continue to deny the reality of the pandemic, mistakenly believing they will not get sick, and are falling victim to the virus”, he commented.

Winkler added that churches in the US are protecting lives in three ways. “Through interfaith and government efforts, churches are directly providing vaccine clinics in their buildings and providing vaccine outreach to local communities. As trusted messengers, church leaders are encouraging vaccinations in their congregations and communities, sharing their personal vaccination stories, and providing facts to counter vaccine disinformation”, he said. “Because the pandemic is a global problem, churches are also joining together to demand vaccine equity and the immediate supply of vaccines to everyone around the world.”

Archbishop Emeritus Dr Anders Wejryd, Sweden, WCC President for Europe, said that, in Sweden, the vaccination rates seem to be highest in areas that are more affluent.

“Among immigrants, vaccination rates are lower, especially among recent immigrants, probably because they are suspicious of authorities, and may also be suspicious of the vaccine itself”, said Wejryd. “But we have seen good examples of immigrant-led churches where the leaders are giving a good message of why people can trust this vaccine.”

Wejryd expressed his appreciation for churches helping people overcome vaccine hesitancy. “Churches are used as precincts for the vaccination, and that’s nice to see”, he said. “The main thing now is to get a fair spread of the vaccine over the world. All these variants and mutations will continue to go on when you don’t cover the world.”

The Rev Gloria Ulloa Alvarado, WCC President for Latin America and the Caribbean, said that receiving the Covid-19 vaccine has made it easier for her to personally accompany families who are going through painful situations of loss of life.

“From the churches, we have insisted on the need to take the vaccine to protect life”, she added. “We have provided food aid to families who have lost their jobs or who have increased the lack of economic income, to Venezuelan migrant families and we have continued to support peace signatories in Colombia.”

* Background: Vaccine champions ready to serve.

* Sources: World Council of Churches, People’s Vaccine

Ekklesia took part in a WCC dialogue on Covid response earlier this year, and will be a media presence at the high level consultation 0n 30 August. We strongly support the #PeoplesVaccine movement for vaccine equity throughout the world.