Nearly 150 religious leaders, including imams in the UK and Sweden, joined a cross-faith campaign urging an end to vaccine nationalism and a collective effort to immunise the world against Covid-19.
Islamic leaders, Christian clergy and Jewish rabbis were among those to say that people in much of the world may not be vaccinated until 2024 if the balance with wealthy countries was not evened out.
The signatories included Ibrahim Mogra, an imam who works at the Canary Wharf Multifaith Chaplaincy in London, and Zahid Bukhari, the executive director of the US-based Centre for Islam and Public Policy.
Leading Islamic figures in Sweden endorsed the letter, including Mohamed Temsamani, the chairman of the United Islamic Associations of Sweden, and Ahmed Ghanem, the imam of Gothenburg Mosque.
Eminent Christian supporters of the campaign included Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, and Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town.
The 145 signatories said their work as religious leaders exposed them to the suffering of people affected by Covid-19.
“The access of people to lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines cannot be dependent on people’s wealth, status or nationality,” they said.
“We cannot abdicate our responsibilities to our sisters and brothers by imagining that the market can be left to resolve the crisis or pretend to ourselves that we have no obligation to others in our shared humanity.
“Every person is precious. We have a moral obligation to reach everyone, in every country.”
The faith leaders said “it pains us greatly that access to the vaccines is so inequitable”.
“We call on all leaders to reject vaccine nationalism and embrace a commitment to global vaccine equity,” they said.
“As religious leaders, we join our voices to the call for vaccines that are made available to all people as a global common good – a people’s vaccine. This is the only way to end the pandemic.”
While some countries, such as the UK, have vaccinated more than half of their population, others have barely started immunisation.
In India, the world's largest manufacturer of vaccines, less than 10 per cent of the population has had a first dose – leaving most of the country vulnerable to a catastrophic second wave of Covid-19.
The scramble for supplies also led to export controls in the EU, while the US is only now preparing to start sending vaccines abroad.
The EU claims to be the leading exporter of vaccines around the world, but many of these go to the UK, Canada and other rich countries.
In addition, the global Covax scheme to distribute doses to developing countries is expected to cover no more than 20 per cent to 30 per cent of their populations.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg upbraided rich countries last week at a WHO conference where she said her foundation donated $120,000 to help end vaccine inequality.
She accused the developed world of failing a “moral test” to ensure global access to vaccines.
“We talked ... about showing solidarity, and yet vaccine nationalism is what's running the vaccine distribution,” she said.