Should COVID-19 Vaccines be for sale? – Labour Article
Finally, some good news. Trials by Oxford University, Moderna, and Pfizer-BioNTech suggest that their respective vaccines are all highly effective in immunising against COVID-19. Now that several effective vaccines for this disease seem likely, attention falls to how these vaccines will be distributed to the global population. How can this best be done?
Back in May, a former WHO board member, Jane Halton, warned against the potential for a kind of “vaccine nationalism”, and called for global cooperation on distribution to prevent a few countries vaccinating their own populations at the expense of the rest of the world. After all, a vaccine is essential not only for saving lives but also for global trade and tourism. However, Halton’s warning has appeared to go largely unnoticed.
To prevent wealthier countries from buying up the vaccines, leaving developing countries empty-handed, a la the swine flu outbreak in 2009, the WHO launched COVAX. In this scheme, 168 signed-up countries get access to an equal share of vaccines. The UK has given £500 million, and it includes 168 countries globally. Sound good? It could be. But, wealthier countries have undermined its potential by striking deals directly with the vaccine producers as well as COVAX. This means that the pool of vaccines to be distributed fairly amongst the global population is diminished. Both the UK and USA are guilty of “vaccine nationalism”. In fact, the UK contributed £500 million to COVAX, but has also ordered at least 340 million doses of prospective vaccines.
The importance of an equitable distribution of the vaccine globally is essential. It will save lives and bring an end to the pandemic. As Kate Elder put it, we have failed if a “healthy twenty-year-old in New Jersey is getting vaccinated before a frontline health care worker in South Sudan”. Unfortunately, due to the approach taken by the UK and the USA, this seems entirely possible.
But beyond distribution among nation-states, is distribution within nation-states. In the UK, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has already set an eleven step ranking on how vaccines will be prioritised, starting with care home residents and workers. Countries around the world are taking a similar approach. Creating plans to distribute a vaccine based on those most vulnerable or most likely to be exposed to the virus. Tom Kenyon, a former director of the CDC’s Center for Global Health, argued that “you want to target the highest risk, because this will get you the biggest benefit, such as truck drivers” and other frontline workers. Given that experts predict that for most of 2021 demand for the coronavirus vaccine will overwhelm supply. The decision of who receives the jab first is of utmost importance.
However, I have little doubt that the wealthy will exert their influence to skip the queue. You only need to look back to the start of the pandemic to see why. When COVID-19 tests were so scarce that frontline workers often could not be tested, there were stories of entire NBA teams and celebrities receiving testing for the virus despite displaying no symptoms of COVID-19. This was in spite of the US’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance that testing should be prioritised for those that are sick, elderly, or have underlying health conditions. A similar story played out in Britain – private labs sold COVID-19 tests for up to £375 in April, allowing the wealthy to evade NHS restrictions on testing. This was back when tests were so scarce. Only those admitted to hospital with the virus were tested, and frontline workers were not offered regular testing.
Such a scandal must not be repeated for a vaccine. Just as the shortage of testing for frontline workers likely led to more deaths and further spread of the virus. The same would be likely if a vaccine is not distributed appropriately. Even if this time, the wealthy are unable to buy a vaccine in the UK. This occurring anywhere in the world threatens to prolong the pandemic and tragically take more lives.
This all ties into the moral limits of markets that Michael Sandel warned us about in his book What Money Can’t Buy. As a vote in an election, there are some things that should not be for sale. We don’t let people buy votes. Mainly because we feel that such a civic duty being treated as private property would seek to undermine and demean the democratic process. A similar case can be made for a vaccine.
We have faced months of government-imposed lockdowns. And, a vaccine appears to be the only possible route to a serious degree of “normality”. If such a vaccine is not distributed in the method best suited to public health, then this would serve to undermine civic duty. And, be a slap in the face to the sacrifices made by citizens throughout this pandemic. A sale of a vaccine to those that can afford it whilst those that are higher-risk, like frontline workers, miss out would certainly have this effect.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Brian Byrne
Point of Information
Richness won’t buy you an early pass – A Conservative Response
I disagree with much in this article. All countries will inevitably put their citizens first, it is not only their right but also their duty. States must protect their citizens, and this is no different. Domestic leaders answer to a domestic audience, not an international one. Many in the domestic audience are tired of COVID-19 restrictions. People are not following them, like this group in Lincoln. Nottingham Christmas Market had to be shut down after it was shown to be too busy almost 90% of people that are told to self-isolate don’t follow it properly.
Many people want to go back to their lives. And, will hold the government accountable should this be delayed too long. There is too much at stake for people to accept further restrictions and further delays because now a vaccine is available, and they will want it as soon as possible. A majority of people in the UK support the foreign aid cut. So it is reasonable to believe that they would want to be put first over other countries for a vaccine.
This article misses that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine will be available to low and middle-income countries on a not-for-profit basis, thus ensuring they get supply. Their vaccine will also be available through COVAX. This will help poorer countries get access.
My colleague also ignores how the UK will play a larger role in global health. There is not only the aforementioned £571 million to COVAX, (£71 million to buy vaccines, £500 million to help poorer countries to access doses) but also over the next four years has pledged £340 million to the WHO (a 30% increase over the previous 4 years). At the G7, Johnson will outline a plan to help prevent future pandemics. Under Biden as well, the US will be more outward-looking. He has already committed to re-joining the WHO.
I would also like to dispel the myth that the rich will buy vaccines for themselves. The Pfizer UK country manager has said that there are no plans to sell the vaccine to the private market “for the foreseeable future”. And even if private companies wanted to buy a vaccine, they would be going to the back of the queue behind states, according to a Department of Health spokesperson. The vaccine will be banned from private sale. The COVID vaccines will go to the right people.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
It is too early to call how the vaccines will play out – A Liberal Response
I completely agree with Brian’s entire article. And I too, am deeply concerned with the ‘give with one hand and take with another’ mentality we and other rich countries are partaking in. Specifically with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine where it’s been pledged to go directly to low and middle-income countries. This is wonderful news, but the head of the World Health Organisation has said a “stampede for vaccines” by richer countries could seriously harm widespread access. Let alone the fact they still need £3.2 billion to share the vaccine fairly, globally.
I understand it is our government’s responsibility to immunise us and ensure the safety of their own population first. But it is worrisome how I, a healthy university student will have the jab months, if not years before healthcare worker in Peru or Sudan. The volume of vaccine hoarding by nations like the UK and US compounds this problem. Even if they are large contributors to COVAX. Also, the two main vaccines: Moderna and Pfizer haven’t joined into the scheme.
Furthermore, it is not just the inequalities of vaccine hoarding that will be the problem. The infrastructure needed for the vaccine role out is extensive. And, I’m unsure what systems are in place to ensure a mass role out.
I’m very sceptical about how ‘free’ this vaccine will be. But only time will tell if our government and the rest of the world honour their commitments to helping everyone gain fair and free access to the vaccine.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Lucy Severn