Vaccine nationalism

Image thanks to NBC

For once I almost agreed with Johnson, well sort of. It would be too good to be true otherwise. So what is it that we are nearly in agreement over? He has announced that surplus stock of Britain’s coronavirus vaccine will be shared with the developing world. Very big of him and the UK government.

On the face of it this offer sounds like a generous thing to do yet scratch beneath the surface and the altruism becomes very thin. In truth it is a headline grabbing offer that underlines the scandalous vaccine nationalism that has taken place throughout the pandemic. Even though this has been and continues to be a global pandemic, nation states have engaged in a feeding frenzy of vaccine procurement. Those with the most money have naturally been able to secure the bulk of the vaccine, leaving those further down the chain to pick up the scraps.

While the UK is racing to vaccinate the population as quickly as it can, most of the rest of the world is being left far behind. 

According to ‘COVAX, the joint effort to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines managed by the World Health Organization (WHO); Gavi, the Vaccines Alliance; and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), was meant to solve so-called vaccine nationalism, but it has struggled to get off the ground. Although it has secured around 2 billion doses — with the goal of covering 20 percent of participant countries’ populations by the end of 2021 — none have been delivered.’

In many ways Johnson’s announcement rubs salt into already raw wounds. Vaccines will only be given away once we have enough and the developing world can have the scraps off the rich world’s table. It is an extension of our imperial approach to global issues. Britain first and screw the rest.

If vaccination is the answer to the COVID problem, and I accept that it is certainly a tool in the armoury, then it needs to be applied at a global level rather than a national one. Indeed it makes sense to vaccinate in countries which have weaker healthcare systems or with populations with a predisposition to the disease in advance of others. Vaccinating vulnerable people first is the approach that has been taken in the UK and so should have been applied across the globe.

Once again, the world has failed to address its inherent inequalities. 

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