How vaccine nationalism shafts billions like me
All of your great vaccine news might as well be from Mars. Billions of people like me are last in line. Perhaps you don’t get it. Irresponsible, rich countries have created tons of demand, bought up all the supply, and are doing it all for profit.
There’s no vaccine for the world. Just the wealthy.
“The reality is that the majority of countries where 87 percent of the world’s population live, are going to have a very limited supply of vaccines, at least for 2021,” Professor Shabir Madhi says. (Al Jazeera)
The US, EU and India alone have bought up at least 4-billion doses, while the entire COVAX program for the Global South has 700 million (The Continent). To put it another way, Moderna and Pfizer might as well be Rolex and Omega. Luxury goods.
Here’s a damning report from Duke University:
According to the analysis, the root problem is that finite global manufacturing capacity is colliding with wealth disparities and self-interest to create a zero-sum game where low-income countries simply can’t compete.
Zero-sum. You could say too bad peasants, but this is in no one’s interest besides the private drug companies. A global pandemic needs a global vaccine. As the WHO’s Tedros Ghebreyesus said,
“What we’re saying is sharing vaccines, or sharing other tools, actually helps the world to recover together, and the economic recovery can be faster and the damage from COVID-19 could be less.”
For this very reason nations signed the COVAX agreement but they didn’t mean it. The rich, white nations are all reneging on the deal.
The data reveal that several COVAX signatories, including the United Kingdom (UK), the European Union (EU) and Canada, are effectively undermining the pact by negotiating “side deals” for large vaccine shipments that will “result in a smaller piece of the pie available for equitable global allocation.”
Meanwhile America has gone full vaccine nationalist, floating the America First Vaccine Act to prohibit international distribution of vaccines. They would block us from anything federally funded at all, until America gets theirs. The bill won’t pass, but the policy is basically the same. Americans actually have enough — but like with climate change — they’re irredeemably greedy.
The United States (US), which is not part of COVAX, already has agreements to purchase enough doses to cover 230% of its population and could eventually control 1.8 billion doses — about a quarter of the world’s near-term supply.
Like the nursery rhyme goes, this little piggy went to market, this little piggy had none. The rich, mostly white nations have gone to market. The poor, mostly colored nations will have none (besides India). People like me will have to cry wee, wee, wee all the way home.
It’s important to note that it’s a two-sided problem. The irresponsible countries are both locking up supply and creating demand.
Places like the UK, US, and EU just let the virus rip. They didn’t take basic measures to keep numbers low. But who gets penalized? Countries like Rwanda, Mongolia, or Ghana — places that somehow kept their epidemics down, with far less resources. They’re last in line. Even our nurses and doctors and frontline workers, we have to wait behind every white person on Earth.
It’s like there’s a fire in the neighborhood and the fire trucks just go to the mansions first, despite the patricans still pouring gasoline on the flames.
They’re not even trying to slow the problem down. Asian countries cancelled their New Year in in the Spring, but the West is just sailing into their winter holidays. For many Asians that’s the only time they see their kids, but people sacrificed, to reduce caseloads. To be responsible. The West, however, is turning their winter peak into Mount Everest. It’s like crashing your car because you have insurance. OK, but what about everyone else on the road?
The irresponsibility is staggering. They’re just going to buy their way out of this and — in the process — price more responsible countries out.
The Profitable Pandemic
When asked who owned the Polio vaccine, Jonas Salk said, “Well, the people, I would say,” Salk responded. “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” Compare that to the attitude today. When countries even try to bring up sharing, the rich nations shut them down.
An informal meeting of the WTO’s TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council in Geneva on Friday saw Canada, Australia, Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union strongly opposing the proposal submitted by India and South Africa to temporarily waive the intellectual property rules for the Covid-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. (Deccan Herald)
The rich nations of the world, the ones who crow so much about aid, want to protect profits, not the people. Drug companies are making millions for press releases. Their order books are already full. When is it enough? When will people matter? When will you join the world?
It doesn’t have to be this way. For those that signed up for COVAX it isn’t even supposed to be this way. But it is.
Our only hope: the other vaccines
Where does this leave us in the Dirty South? We can read your news about vaccines, but it’s got nothing to do with us. This isn’t science for the people. It’s for profit. Your states are monopolizing supply and actively blocking any attempts to share. It’s vaccine nationalism, which is a terrible response to a virus that doesn’t see borders at all. It’s the worst thing for public health, the same greed, incompetence, and selfishness that infected your countries in the first place.
Our only hope is the vaccines you don’t report on. The Gamaleya vaccine from Russia. Various vaccines from China. Despite everyone rushing vaccines through press releases, these are reported on with great skepticism and disdain, but they’re at least available to us. They’re at least done on a more humanitarian basis.
Another thing the western press doesn’t report is that every vaccine (including Moderna and Pfizer) depended on the genomic information that China sequenced and released in January. That’s why we have anything at all. China shared the problem, but the West won’t share their answers.
China is really our main hope. They can help the world because they helped themselves.
Not urgently needing the vaccines at home to fight a virus it has largely quashed, China is playing a global game by pledging to send any proven vaccine to countries that are conducting trials for its candidates, or to share the technologies behind them.
Yanzhong Huang, a global health specialist at both Seton Hall University and the Council on Foreign Relations, says the country is “actually using the vaccine to promote the diplomacy of foreign policy objectives.” This “vaccine diplomacy” he says, contrasts starkly with Warp Speed’s “vaccine nationalism” and aims to “fill in the void left by the United States.” (ScienceMag)
This is what global leadership is supposed to look like. Not lighting your house on fire and then buying up all the water. Getting your house in order and helping your neighbors. That’s our only hope.
To close with another nursery rhyme, our vaccine situation is like the Three Little Pigs, only backwards. The nations that built their houses out of straw get to buy safety. The Dirty South — which built public health out of bricks — gets the wolf.
If you got this far, you can listen to my podcast about this issue called I Can’t Get No Vaccination.