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Vatican Conference 2021: Chelsea Clinton, Francis Collins speak on second day

Chelsea Clinton Chelsea Clinton./ Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0).

On the second day of an online Vatican conference on “exploring the mind, body, and soul,” Chelsea Clinton called for the regulation of “anti-vaccine content” on social media.

She made the appeal during a May 7 discussion on building a more equitable health system in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The daughter of former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began by thanking the Vatican for convening the virtual meeting.

Clinton, the 41-year-old vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, reflected on why a significant number of people are not taking up the COVID-19 vaccine. She distinguished between “vaccine hesitancy” and “vaccine refusal.”

“We just have to be cognizant that there are very different reasons why people may say ‘not now’ or ‘not ever,’” she said.

Clinton explained that the Clinton Foundation was seeking to reach both those who are reluctant to receive the vaccine and those who refuse it outright through “trusted messengers.”

She said: “We’ve done work with a number of different religious communities, including some of our Catholic partners, to really help ensure that whoever is able to have a conversation is able to preempt or to answer whatever questions people may have, and even for those who are currently in the refusing group to get a message like: ‘The vaccines are waiting for you, and the vaccinators will be too, whenever you are comfortable. And we are going to keep reaching out to try to help you get comfortable.’”

Clinton, a Methodist and a supporter of legal abortion, was speaking at a three-day international conference on “Exploring the Mind, Body & Soul: How Innovation and Novel Delivery Systems Improve Human Health,” taking place virtually May 6-8.

It is the fifth conference of its kind organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Cura Foundation, which describes itself as a “nonsectarian, nonpartisan” group “with a mission to improve human health globally.”

Emphasizing that she was speaking on her own behalf, rather than for the organizations she represents, Clinton called for international regulation of social media content on vaccines.

She said: “I personally very strongly believe there has to be more intensive and intentional and coordinated global regulation of the content on social media platforms.”

“We know that the most popular video across all of Latin America for the last few weeks, that now has tens of millions of views, is just an anti-vaccine, anti-science screed that YouTube has just refused to take down.”

“We know that often anti-vaccine content that is created in the United States, unfortunately, kind of flourishes across the world, through the pathways of WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram...”

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“And we know that -- because I have tried -- appealing to the leadership of these companies to do the right thing has just not worked, and so we need regulation.”

Speaking earlier on the second day, Dr. Francis Collins suggested that the coronavirus pandemic should be seen as both a medical and a spiritual crisis.

Collins, the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, said that the medical crisis was obvious in terms of the number of people who have contracted the virus and died from it.

“But it has also disrupted us spiritually,” he said, “it has caused great amounts of struggle, in terms of mental health, anxiety, depression, even a sense of PTSD, from people who have gone through this over and over again.”

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Speaking from his home office, where he said he had been living like a “hermit,” Collins said that while science seemed to provide the best hope for a way out of the pandemic, it could not answer people’s deepest questions about the meaning of suffering.

He said: “The hope that we might want to offer now comes in many ways from science, and it’s something that I’m immersed in every day: the development of these vaccines coming forward at extraordinary speed, with unexpectedly, remarkably high efficacy and safety -- an answer to prayer, one might even say.”

“But also the other struggles that people are having which vaccines alone are not going to deal with… The sense of hopelessness that many have experienced, of fear, that is where I think faith is a much better solution, perhaps, than many have given it credit for.”

Collins, an evangelical Christian who was once an atheist, has overseen the NIH’s collaboration with pharmaceutical companies and government agencies to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.

He noted that he had experienced difficult moments as he watched the virus spread around the world, but had found solace in the Bible.

He said: “I’ve had my own times over these 15 months of feeling frustrated, maybe even a little hopeless, that this virus continued to win the battles that we were losing. And I could not help but ask God: ‘Why is this happening? Is there not something that you can do about it?’”

“But as I read through the pages of that book of God’s words, of the Bible, I found myself settling into the Psalms a lot. Because if you think that our times and struggle are novel, well, go and read the Psalms and you’ll see what David and the other writers of those hymns were dealing with also.”

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“And I continually come back to them and particularly to Psalms like Psalm 46, which seems to have been written for this era. Psalm 46 begins, ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ Trouble. We’ve had trouble. We’re still having trouble. But this is this promise that God is aware of that and with us, and as a refuge and a strength.”

Collins, who won the $1.3 million Templeton Prize last year, continued: “So I’m glad for the vaccines. I’m glad for the remarkable advances in diagnostic technologies to figure out where this virus is and who’s been infected, and I’m glad for the therapeutic advances that are happening.”

“But I’m also glad that I have this promise of a God who understands suffering, died on a cross in a suffering experience that none of us can even imagine, and who is our refuge and strength and our ever-present help in trouble.”

Another speaker on day two was Brandon Marshall, who played 13 seasons in the NFL, who reflected on his struggle with borderline personality disorder and described his efforts to help people at risk of suicide.

In his remarks at the start of the conference on May 6, Pontifical Council president Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi said that the conference was organized around three themes, which he described as three stars that light up the sky: the body, the soul, and the mind.

He added that the conference would involve dialogue with different experts and people on these themes and that people’s visions on the issues would differ.

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Speakers on the event’s first day included Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, and New Age guru Deepak Chopra.

The Vatican health conference also features the CEOs of large pharmaceutical companies, including Moderna and Pfizer, along with celebrities active in medical philanthropy, global health advocates, policymakers, physicians, and religious leaders.

The conference’s website lists more than 100 speakers, including Kerry Kennedy, Cindy Crawford, Joe Perry of the rock band Aerosmith, and Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, prefect emeritus of the Vatican Secretariat for Communications.

On Saturday, the conference’s final day, there will be a “private virtual audience” for participants with Pope Francis.