POPE FRANCIS has pleaded for the coronavirus vaccine to be distributed to everyone equally, regardless of social class.
The world's top scientists are working on a vaccine for the virus which has brought the world to a standstill for almost six months now, with some countries-- including Russia and the UK-- stating a vaccine could be ready for distribution soon.
The leader of the Catholic Church has asked that when a vaccine is ready that the rich in society do not get priority, stating "we must also cure a larger virus, that of social injustice".
Pope Francis was addressing worshippers in the Apostolic Palace in Rome on Wednesday when he made the appeal.
“It would be sad if, for the vaccine for COVID-19, priority were to be given to the richest," the pope told the General Audience.
"It would be sad if this vaccine were to become the property of this nation or another, rather than universal and for all."
He invited followers of the Catholic church to "tackle together the pressing issues that the pandemic has highlighted, especially social diseases".
He continued, "we will do it in the light of the Gospel, the theological virtues, and the principles of the Church’s social doctrine. We will explore together how our Catholic social tradition can help the human family heal this world that suffers from serious diseases.”
“On the one hand, it is essential to find a cure for this small but terrible virus, which has brought the whole world to its knees.
"On the other, we must also cure a larger virus-- that of social injustice, inequality of opportunity, marginalisation, and the lack of protection for the weakest."
“In this dual response for healing there is a choice that, according to the Gospel, cannot be lacking: the preferential option for the poor."
The Catholic leader went on to state this was not a "political option, nor is it an ideological option, [or] a party option" but the Catholic way.
"The preferential option for the poor is at the centre of the Gospel," he said.
"And the first to do this was Jesus.”
Pope Francis acknowledged that many people were eager for a return to normality, but "this normality should not include social injustices and the degradation of the environment".
"We do not emerge from a crisis the same as before," he added.
"Either we come out of it better, or we come out of it worse. We must come out of it better, to counter social injustice and environmental damage.
"Today we have an opportunity to build something different.”
The pope's appeal comes after the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that some countries may attempt to 'hoard' a vaccine once a viable one has been found.
The coronavirus, first identified in Wuhan, China in January of this year, has spread across the globe, infecting more than 22.6 million people.
793,864 people are reported to have died from the virus.