Global Vaccination Equity
The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. While high- and some middle-income states have secured more than enough doses to vaccinate their populations, the world’s poorest countries, constrained by funding and supply, have barely begun vaccinating theirs. As of April, 2021, the world’s high-income countries, which represent 16% of the global population, hold 4.6 billion doses while low-income countries hold 770 million. At current rates, the Duke Health Innovation Center estimates that low-income countries “may not reach 60% coverage until 2023 or later.” This inequity in vaccine distribution, though not inherently unfair, is both a moral matter and a global health risk. As COVID variants emerge and continue to circulate, whatever gains are being enjoyed in health and economic recovery in richer states will be at risk unless the virus is contained in poorer ones. In addition to waiving intellectual property constraints, researchers recommend significant investment and assistance in supply chain and logistics, training and availability of health workers, ethics-guided vaccine distribution, and better international cooperation in ensuring global access to high quality vaccines.
In April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 224-page report in which it concluded after a legal analysis of relevant articles of the International Criminal Court’s statute (2002) and Apartheid Convention (1976) that Israel’s practices concerning the Palestinians had crossed a threshold and could be legally described as crimes against humanity, including the crime of apartheid. The organization was not the first to draw this conclusion. B’Tselem and Yesh Din, two Israel-based human rights organizations had done the same legal analyses earlier and reached similar conclusions. The publication of HRW’s report elicited the expected polarized reactions, but one thing is clear: there is no such thing as a “status quo” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The realities on the ground are evolving, and not for the better. The question before the world—Israelis, Palestinians, UN Security Council, the International Criminal Court, the United States, civil society, and so on—is whether those findings matter. Would a human rights-based approach work apart from independent Palestinian statehood? Some contrasting views can be found here, here and here. (The Knesset is hosting an event with human rights groups on the matter today.)
Famine continues to threaten the lives of millions around the world. The World Food Program, winner of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, reports that approximately 41 million people in 20 countries are on the brink of famine. It notes that contrary to common belief, much of the hunger is man-made, driven by problems like conflict, loss of jobs and land, inequality, the mishandling of COVID-19, and so on. With attacking water resources being a common war tactic, the lack of clean water is worsening matters as diseases like cholera spread and threaten whole communities. Food aid alone is insufficient. Effective solutions will require comprehensive efforts from all stakeholders to address conflict, “the single biggest driver of hunger today,” the WFP maintains.
Religious Liberty at the U.S. Supreme Court
On June 17, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously ruled in Fulton v. Philadelphia that “the refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS [Catholic Social Services] for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.” The case is one of many in the US, Europe, and other parts of the world in which the tensions between the practice of religion and non-discrimination provisions are at issue. In his 77-page concurrence in Fulton, Justice Alito noted that “the decision might as well be written on the dissolving paper sold in magic shops” because it hardly addresses the core issues and many more cases like it will inevitably find their way back to the Court.
American Christianity and Politics
As the American church continues to wrestle with the politicization of Christianity, Elite Source Pro has created the “God Bless the USA Bible” scheduled for distribution this September. Being marketed as “the Ultimate American Bible,” the King James Version contains texts of the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, Pledge of Allegiance, and a handwritten chorus of Lee Greenwold’s “God bless the USA.” Critics are seeing in the venture an expression of White Christian nationalism and are concerned that linking American founding texts with what they believe is inspired Scripture will inevitably cause confusion. One writer observed that not only does the mingling suggest God’s endorsement of America to the exclusion of others, but it is also unclear which texts would be authoritative in cases of conflict. Despite the political context within which this Bible is being released, Elite Source Pro’s president reportedly denied that the Bible has anything to do with current politics.
On a lighter (or darker) note, earlier this month, at 45 feet deep, Massachusetts diver Michael Packard suddenly found himself in the mouth of a humpback whale. Terrified and in death’s jaw, he awaited the inevitable. But about thirty seconds later, the whale surfaced and spit him out. The fascinating story reminded many of the biblical story of Jonah who, unlike Packard, was swallowed by a fish and spent three days in its belly before it expelled him along with other stomach contents. Packard had only a few bruises to show for his adventure and a heart full of gratitude for having lived to tell the tale! Hear the story first-hand here.