Catholic Health Australia puts spotlight on COVID-19 vaccines

24 Feb 2021

By Contributor

Vatican Commission coordinator for COVID-19 response, Sister Carol Keehan. Photo: Sourced.
Vatican Commission coordinator for COVID-19 response, Sister Carol Keehan. Photo: Sourced.

Catholic Health Australia and the Australian Catholic University, together with The Catholic Weekly, have earlier this month hosted an online forum discussing how solidarity and cooperation are key to dealing with the challenges of COVID-19.

The forum, held on World Day of the Sick on 11 February, examined new community strategies to address one of the greatest public and mental health challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic crippled the world.

Titled “Vaccines, viruses and vulnerabilities: Catholic health and care of the human person”, key speakers of the event included the current Vatican Commission coordinator for COVID-19 response, Sister Carol Keehan and Senior Director of Ethics of Catholic Health Association in the United States, Dr Brian Kane.

Sr Keehan is the former head of the US Catholic Health Association and played an integral role in the passing of the Affordable Care Act passed in the US, which provided an extra 20 million Americans with health insurance.

Dr Kane is considered a global thought leader in academic and clinical bioethics, with a particular interest in palliative care and end of life decision making.

Dr David Kirchhoffer, Director of the Queensland Bioethics Centre. Photo: Sourced.

Dr David Kirchhoffer, Director of the Queensland Bioethics Centre, acted as the moderator for the online forum–which was conducted interactively with a Q&A format.

Sr Keehan emphasised that the pandemic has shown us “how vulnerable we are as a global community,” which means it is critical to act globally to end the pandemic.

“We need to act like a global family and realise our interdependence, as well as our responsibility to each other. The other thing that goes with that is transparency. And we had transparency between nations, and transparency between regions and continents,” she said.

Speaking about COVID-19 vaccines and their distribution, Sr Keehan said vaccine resistance is much bigger than it seems, and “we’re not safe until we are all safe”.

“These kinds of problems hit the most vulnerable, the neediest first and hardest, while the recovery in that group is slowest and longest. That’s something that was a huge motivation for Pope Francis in establishing the COVID-19 commission,” Sr Keehan said.

Dr Kane also said that it is important to acknowledge the role of public health and “the Catholic social teaching term of the common good” so that there is a sense of social obligation in the vaccines distributions.

“Universally, we need to apply legitimate medical standards without prejudice and without anticipation of weighing life years of one person versus another,” Dr Kane said.

Senior Director of Ethics of Catholic Health Association in the United States Doctor Brian Kane. Photo: Sourced.

The forum also discussed other vulnerabilities imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the loss of life from other diseases such as cancer as coronavirus-led isolations prevent patients from getting appropriate treatments, loss of income, children’s education and mental health.

Despite all the challenges and difficulties in getting the vaccines distributed evenly, Sr Keehan and Dr Kane were hopeful for the future.

“I think there is a great deal of unanimity about the values that we have to have to address these public health kinds of issues. Hopefully, the kinds of structures that the Church has put into place in health care worldwide are essential for getting people’s health care needs met.

“So much has been done before us, and we have inherited those values—the infrastructure and educational systems that have come before us to give us the tools to move forward. So I think we will always have challenges. But hopefully, we can create new tools and new conditions that we can pass on from our experience that will help the next time,” Dr Kane said.

“The first is the leadership of Pope Francis, in the respect that nations and organisations have for him, is incredible. And I talked to them a great deal because of leading this task force and his clear and consistent focus on taking care of your family, taking care of the family of the world,” Sr Keehan said. 

“The other thing that gives me great hope is I meet a lot of people in my role in this commission, from all around the world, and there are many very talented people who are committed to doing this right. And if we learn to solve this problem as a global family, we will have a head start on some other problems we have as a global family,” she concluded.