The Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested it is right to prioritise the vaccine rollout in the UK before distributing them abroad, as a nation with one of the highest levels of infection and death rates in the world.
The Most Rev Justin Welby said on Wednesday that “love your neighbour” does not mean “let yourself die”, in response to a question about the Norwegian government’s plan to start giving away vaccines while running its own immunisations at home.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has previously warned of a “catastrophic moral failure” and called for equitable distribution of the vaccine.
Mr Welby told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This virus will not be defeated anywhere until it’s defeated everywhere and that means that, not least, it’s in our own interests that all around the world the vaccine is given.”
Praising the UK Government for its involvement in the global vaccine-sharing fund, Covax, Mr Welby continued: “We do have to care, and we are one of the countries, one of the highest levels of infection and death rate in the world, and it is necessary to focus on those in need to stop it spreading.
“At the heart of Jesus’s teaching was ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ – it doesn’t mean you let yourself die in order to love your neighbour, normally – that’s sometimes called for.
“Jesus calls us to a generosity of heart and spirit and there will be a point when we have to start giving away.
“I think places like Canada have ordered five times what they need and I’m sure they will look at how that can be distributed around the world, and similarly here, I’ve no doubt that’s on the Government’s mind.”
The UK has contributed £548 million in aid to Covax, which aims to support 92 developing countries and is preparing to deliver its first doses in February.
Nearly seven million people in the UK have so far received a first dose of a Covid-19 jab.
Earlier this month, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a “me first” approach would prolong the pandemic as well as human and economic suffering, particularly in the world’s poorest countries.
Without identifying individual countries, he said: “Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritise bilateral deals, going around Covax, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue.”
Mr Welby added on BBC Breakfast that the “the best way” to mourn the more than 100,000 people in the UK who have died with coronavirus is by sticking to lockdown rules.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) That is a promise from God – and an example for us to follow.
Let’s continue to love and support each other through these intensely painful times.
— Archbishop of Canterbury (@JustinWelby) January 26, 2021
He advised the public to respect those who have died by “keeping to the rules about lockdown, and when we’re offered them, taking the vaccinations”, adding that he prays for Prime Minister Boris Johnson and any “regrets” he has over the pandemic response.
He said: “I pray for our politicians each day, our political leaders, including the Prime Minister, because they’re human, they’re deeply, deeply human.
“There will be things they’ve got wrong, because they’re human.
“Today is a day for solidarity and support, there will be inquiries in the future, that is quite right, but today is for solidarity.
“They will have regrets. I’d say to all of them, take it to God in prayer, confess it, and we have to move on and get the next decision right, and care for people better as a result.”
Along with the Archbishop of York, the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell, Mr Welby wrote an open letter to the nation urging people to take a moment each day to pause in remembrance.