(RNS) — As the richest nation in the world, the United States has not only unique assets but unique responsibilities. Included among them is the responsibility to share our vast scientific and technological capability. At no time are we called more urgently to do so than during a global pandemic.
That’s why we are so disappointed by Congress’ failure thus far to fund aid to poorer countries dealing with COVID-19 after the Senate failed to pass a $10 billion package in early April. The decisions that led to the bill’s failure are shortsighted, put all of us at risk, stifle hope for better days ahead and fail every test of morality.
Caring for the less fortunate by providing access to and information about vaccines is not only a critical public health issue but also a matter of faith — even a religious imperative — to offer health and healing where it is most needed. We are following our faith into health justice.
The connection between faith and vaccines has become evident here in the United States. Since COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, faith communities have supported equitable distribution and done their best to combat hesitancy. With experience in providing health services and community service, many faith communities are well positioned to serve in these ways. Spiritual leaders have come together to ensure that their congregations have access to good information about the virus and the vaccine itself.
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Our group, Faiths4Vaccines, is an inclusive, multifaith movement comprising U.S. religious leaders and medical professionals working to identify and resolve current gaps in vaccine mobilization, outreach and uptake.
The Faiths4Vaccines coalition has convened local faith actors, public and private entities and senior Biden administration officials for an honest dialogue about the challenges communities face in protecting themselves from COVID-19. Our vision at Faiths4Vaccines is to overcome access and hesitancy by offering vaccinations in trusted locations such as houses of worship and by asking trusted faith leaders to provide guidance and assistance.
Multifaith efforts at vaccine outreach have helped to increase community vaccination rates while strengthening social ties in diverse communities. In Palm Beach County, Florida, Temple Beth El Synagogue expanded a campaign to vaccinate its own elderly members to join forces with other religious organizations, including a local Baptist church and the Islamic Center of Boca Raton. With the help of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the effort registered and vaccinated more than 500 community members.
“When you see an interfaith assembly bringing the community together, it really is encouraging,” said the vice president of one of the synagogues that collaborated in the campaign.
We need to work with more faith communities to extend this same dynamic to the rest of the world. Of the more than 11 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccines administered globally, only 14.5% of people in low-income countries have received a single dose.
Low global vaccination rates are a human and moral catastrophe for all of us. Not only will unvaccinated people get sick and die, they will also enable new variants to breed and spread, peril to us all. No one is safe until all of us are safe.
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As the global community enters the next phase of the pandemic, fatigue has set in, and in the West the easing of COVID-19 restrictions risks complacency. The lack of urgency to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable shames us all. Viewing the world through a lens of privilege has not helped us in this pandemic.
At this critical time we can not afford to slow down. We must accelerate our mission of vaccine equity so that we reach those who too often are easily forgotten.
(Uzma Syed is the chair of the COVID-19 task force at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in New York. The Rev. Jim Wallis is the leader of the Center for Faith and Justice at Georgetown University; Katherine Marshall is a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs; Rabbi David Saperstein is director emeritus of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; the Rev. Adam Taylor is the president of Sojourners; Mohamed Elsanousi is the executive director of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)