Pope Francis returned last Wednesday to the San Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican where he had held his first weekly public audience after these had been shut down for nearly six months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was wearing a face mask as he approached the crowd but tried to keep his distance and urged the people to stay in their seats. As he turned to go to the podium, an aide squirted some hand sanitizer on his hands. It was the first time the Pope was seen in public wearing a face mask and using a hand sanitizer.
The Pope has certainly done his share in efforts to keep everyone safe from the virus which has already infected 28,324,870 people and killed 913,913 around the world as of September 11, according to statistics maintained by Worldometer, an international team of developers and researchers. Of the total cases, 20,339,603 have recovered.
On the same day the Pope made his first public appearance with a face mask to show his support for global efforts to stop COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) stressed the importance of safety in the ongoing efforts around the world to develop a vaccine against the virus.
It reported that tests on a vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca with the University of Oxford in England have been paused after one of the volunteers in Phase III tests had unexpectedly developed transverse myelitis, an inflammatory syndrome affecting the spinal cord that is often sparked by viral infections. An independent committee was named to determine if the illness was caused by the vaccine being tested.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has been described by WHO as probably the leading candidate among the many vaccines now in their final Phase III tests around the world. Questions have been raised about other vaccines that are being pushed by Russia and the United States although they have not completed required Phase III tests.
WHO expects these final tests to be completed by the end of the year. This will be followed by the mass production and distribution of the vaccines to countries around the world. This should be accomplished by around the middle of next year.
In the meantime, the world can only protect itself from COVID-19 by having individuals wearing face masks and, if possible, also face shields, by social distancing of one to two meters, by avoiding touching possible infected areas like doorknobs and armrests, and by constant washing of hands.
Pope Francis set an example for all to follow when he wore a face mask and used a hand sanitizer when he met his audience at the San Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. “Health, in addition to being an individual good, is also a public good,” he said. “A healthy society is one that takes care of everyone’s health.”