Tackling the global pandemic through vaccine equity is in everybody’s interest… except maybe people living in rich countries, and Labor Senators. Geoff Russell explains.
The face of selfish rich world entitlement was front and centre in TV news reports on Thursday. In Australia, Senator Katy Gallagher was attacking Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy during the Senate Enquiry into COVID-19 about our vaccine rollout: “We’re not at the front of the queue, are we?” she complained.
Well no, Australia isn’t at the front of the queue. And we also don’t have thousands of people dying each day, and a hospital system in crisis. Ms Gallagher might protest that she was actually trying to attack Scott Morrison, but it was pretty bloody clear she thought Australia should be given special priority over other nations.
We bloody well should not be at the front of the queue.
WHO’s recent plea(s), more than one, for vaccine equity, seems to have bypassed Ms Gallagher, among others.
In the EU, we have Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides playing hard ball over doses of vaccine she claims should be delivered to the EU from manufacturing plants in the UK. Well yes, people are dying at high rates in various countries in the EU, but not at quite the rate of the UK.
It might be reasonable to blame the UK deaths on appalling management by Boris Johnson, but should those dying in the UK be paying for his screw ups? Since when is electing a clown a capital offence? Okay… maybe it should be punishable by something.
In November Nature, the scientific journal, published a table of which countries had pre-ordered the most vaccine doses. The top 5 on that table were:
- Canada – 8 doses per person
- UK – 4 doses per person
- Australia – 4 doses per person
- US – 3 doses per person
- EU – 3 doses per person
Japan was the only other country with more than 2 doses per person.
COVAX, the WHO initiative to provide vaccines for most of the planet had a tiny bar on the Nature chart. As of writing (Jan 29) COVAX’s 1.3 billion doses are almost all in the form of non-binding agreements.
It should be obvious to everybody that global vaccine equity is in everybody’s interest. If only the rich world is vaccinated, then the virus will continue to circulate and mutate across the other 6 billion or so people on the planet. Containment will be impossible without permanent strict closure of international borders for as long as it takes for the virus to lose its kick.
There is a tendency for new viral strains to outcompete the initial strain by being more contagious and not killing their host quite so soon, or not at all. But that’s a tendency, not something that happens with each and every variant. So it doesn’t preclude more dangerous mutations from arising frequently.
A team of Turkish scientists recently costed the impacts on the global economy of rich selfishness; namely having rich countries fully vaccinated and poor countries left out. The cost to the global economy was some $9 trillion.
Supply lines for many goods are heavily globalised with poorer countries featuring prominently. We really do live in a highly connected planet and the cost of more self-sufficiency will be high; and it will hurt both sides of any trading connection. That said, many countries will already be looking to reduce reliance on overseas partners for some critical goods. But a failure of international vaccine equity will drive that trend far beyond what is sensible.
It’s hard to know who is more dangerous – the anti-lock downers, the anti-vaxxers, or the globally ascendant representatives of the me generation with all their ‘i’ and ‘my’ words.
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