The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) is a worldwide Christian communion of 241 member bodies in 126 countries and territories representing 169,000 churches and 47 million direct members. This includes the BWA Forum for Aid and Development (BFAD), a network of aid agencies in every region of the world that annually invest millions of dollars (USD) in aid, relief, and community development.
Together, the Baptist World Alliance affirms that “in Jesus Christ all people are equal. We oppose all forms of slavery, racism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing and so will do all in our power to address and confront these sins.”
We acknowledge the solidarity shared by the millions of Baptists and non-Baptists alike in the face of the suffering caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic. As we move into 2021, we also recognise our responsibility to participate in the solution to this crisis. We do so by:
- Calling for the cooperation of governments to support systems of coordinated mass vaccination and enhance access to vaccinations through aid and economic innovations;
- Urging Baptists globally to participate in enabling global vaccination;
- Repudiating unhelpful narratives associated with mass vaccination and asking Baptists and all people of goodwill to do so as well; and
- Issuing a clarion call for just access to available COVID-19 vaccines globally, including six specific steps of justice necessary for equitable global access and a shared solidarity in addressing a global pandemic.
COVID-19 Has Exposed Inequality
Inequality has been exposed in a multitude of ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have seen the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) countries struggle to address comprehensive testing and treatment of the virus, artificially masking its impact in many places. Stigma, failure to address other existing health concerns, and economic regression have followed. Within (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, the pandemic has shone a light on the discrepancies that exist between different sectors of society. The fault lines and their effects are well known; disproportionate impact in vulnerable ethnic and racial communities, disposable employment, loneliness, space to ensure mental wellbeing and widened gaps in financial disparities, education access and attainment, and access to secure internet connection.
As disciples of Jesus, we anticipate his Kingdom of peace and justice and respond to our collective biblical mandate to confront all forms of human inequality. Our solemn plea is that the global vaccination plan would be a near-unprecedented model for global human equality.
Four Points Prevail
Even in countries with excellent health systems, COVID-19 is still regularly claiming the lives of more than 2% of all reported as infected. The slower the global rollout of the vaccine, the more lives will be lost. We know this will continue to cripple families, businesses, and societies around the world. No one should be stopped from accessing treatments or vaccines because of where they live, what they can afford, their race, or their convictions of faith and conscience.
We acknowledge that healthy populations are productive. Globally interconnected supply chains and markets will more quickly function afresh when an integrated and universal approach to vaccination is upheld as a priority. It will save lives as well as jobs, stimulating more rapid economic recovery around the world.
While intellectual property laws provide corporate protection for pharmaceutical companies from incurring losses during the research and development phase, we believe that the pandemic represents business unusual. The economic shock which threatens to plunge up to 100 million people back into extreme poverty and led to nearly 10% loss of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) across all OECD countries must be arrested, even if it requires creative short-term legislation and an expansion of aid spending by the world’s wealthiest countries.
“COVID-19 anywhere is COVID-19 everywhere.” It is our conviction that in order to defeat COVID-19, we must defeat it everywhere and defeat it simultaneously. No human being should experience the prevailing rules of poverty and exclusion in this regard. We do not wish to add COVID-19 vaccinations to the list of injections that children in the global community fail to receive for generations to come. Instead, given its virility, COVID-19 should be treated like Smallpox and be decisively and fundamentally eradicated. To defeat COVID-19, we must defeat it everywhere and do so quickly.
Six Justice Steps
We call for strong international cooperation. Specifically, we call on government and private sector actors to support worldwide collective efforts to eradicate the pandemic and produce vaccines for all on a fair and equitable basis. This should include support for CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation) funding research and development into vaccine candidates and the GAVI COVAX instrument for global vaccination. This is the best way in which global vaccination can avoid becoming “weaponized” for political, economic, and diplomatic leverage.
We condemn “vaccine nationalism.” High HDI nations have already purchased over 3.8 billion doses of vaccines for themselves. Neither China nor the United States have signed up to COVAX. We specifically call on the United States, including USA-based Baptists, to press for the United States to deliver on their intent to join COVAX.
We call on manufacturers to commit supplies to poorer nations and to supply vaccines at cost at least until the pandemic is over; and urge employees, investors, and other stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry to lobby for this commitment.
We call on faith leaders and governments to recognise the important role faith communities can play as civil society enablers, capable of mobilising people for vaccination and hosting vaccination hubs in their buildings and community gatherings. Moreover, as many unhelpful myths and misinformation abound in regard to COVID-19’s various vaccines, trusted faith leaders are also capable of dissuading these destructive narratives and building cooperation with national vaccination programs.
We call for collective support for research in preventing future pandemics and for research into limiting the knock-on adverse effects of the virus on an array of services in low and middle-income countries. This would include, for example, the return to school of children who have been forced into child labour as schools have closed.
We call on governments in OECD countries to enhance aid budgets to fight the pandemic globally, respond to its humanitarian impacts, and support recovery. As poverty increases due to economic recession in most global economies, governments must maintain and increase international development cooperation budgets rather than restrict them in the face of domestic fiscal pressures.
Together, we stand both in prayerful lament for all who have died and been negatively impacted, and in hopeful expectation that in the face of this global pandemic the world will choose to pursue equity and justice, especially for the most vulnerable.