Vaccine Inequality is Mounting, and We Need to Stop It – Liberal Article
Having just received my first covid vaccine a few days ago, along with many other young people, it is easy to view the UK’s vaccination programme as a great success. As I write this, over 43 million people in the UK have received their first vaccine. 31 million have had both. Thinking back to where the country was at the beginning of the year, I remember being highly sceptical of the government’s vaccine timeline. Thankfully, my scepticism was clearly unnecessary.
The UK is not alone in its vaccine success. According to the UN, rich countries, including the UK, US and much of Europe, are vaccinating one person every second. It’s an impressive statistic that brings much hope with it. However, whilst on the surface, such vaccination success seems wholly encouraging, there is a dark underbelly to this. One that we cannot, and should not ignore.
High-income countries currently hold a confirmed 4.6 billion doses, while low-middle income nations hold 670 million. Thus, many of the world’s poorest countries are still yet to administer a single dose. And those that have, simply haven’t administered nearly enough. Therefore, whilst the situation in the UK is promising, the same cannot be said for overseas.
Attempts have been made to prevent vaccine inequality. The WHO and a number of other global health organisations came together to set up COVAX, a worldwide initiative aiming to evenly distribute affordable vaccines across the globe. It received major investments from rich countries, including the UK, illustrating that those countries understand the importance of vaccine equity. However, despite COVAX’s noble efforts, it has hardly helped.
The issue is, the sheer number of vaccines purchased by COVAX is minuscule, especially as these vaccines are shared around the world. Moreover, rich countries have secured separate bilateral trade deals with various vaccine companies alongside the multilateral COVAX deal. Therefore, these countries are undoubtedly dominating the world’s vaccine supply.
Furthermore, wealthy countries invested in a wide range of companies during the creation of vaccines in return for the first dibs on doses if the vaccine gets approved. Although a risky investment, if it pays off, these countries are able to get their hands on lots of vaccines before anyone else. Countries that simply couldn’t afford to take such risks had to wait until the vaccines were approved before they could purchase them. However, by that time, a long queue had already formed.
Unsurprisingly, as with most things, it pays to have money.
Richer countries have been able to buy their way to the front of the queue. It’s obviously great news that the UK’s vaccination program is on track, and that countless lives have been saved as a result. However, we should not overlook or disregard the privilege that has made this possible.
Whilst with every vaccine administered in the UK a potential life is saved, overseas countless lives continue to be mercilessly taken. India, for instance, was ravaged by a second, and now possibly a third wave of covid. The images of the catastrophe were truly horrific. And although India is now beginning to ramp up its vaccine programme by prioritising domestic vaccines over exports, worries now turn to Nepal.
In May, Nepal recorded one of the highest infection rates. But the country does not have nearly enough vaccines to employ an effective vaccination program. Consequently, Amnesty International has called for the UK to help supply Nepal with much-needed vaccines. Only 2.4% of Nepal’s population is vaccinated, whereas around 80% of the UK adult population has received its first dose. Such vast inequity will mean that, whilst things in the UK may soon start to return to some kind of normality, the pandemic will rage on in Nepal, with many more deaths to come.
Moreover, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that there is a “shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines”, highlighting the situation in Africa. The lack of available doses in Africa means that many who have received their first vaccine will not be able to get their second in time. Therefore, even the very few people who Africa has been able to vaccinate may still miss out on the all-important second dose.
Simply put, the vast vaccine inequality we are witnessing across the globe is grotesque and morally wrong. Yes, of course, it is important that we vaccinate people in the UK. I understand the urgency. However, we now have a situation where the wealthier countries are hoarding the majority of the vaccine supply. As a result, developing countries, with basic healthcare systems, will bear the brunt of the pandemic’s full force.
It is clear that countries have solely looked out for themselves in the classic dog-eat-dog fashion. Admittedly, a country’s desire to protect its own people is understandable. It is how the world has worked for years. Yet, countries now are more interconnected than ever before, with state cooperation at an all-time high. Furthermore, this pandemic was declared ‘global’ for a reason. It is devastating all corners of the world. Global problems call for global solutions, but instead, wealthy states have turned their backs on countries most in need.
But have the wealthy countries even acted in their best interests? The longer the pandemic rolls on, the more likely new variants will spring up. There is always the possibility that a new variant could be resistant to the vaccine. Therefore, what was the point in vaccinating the whole of the UK if, abroad, a deadlier variant emerges and hits us harder than we have ever been hit before? Simply vaccinating our own country does not solve the pandemic. There is a chance our selfish approach will prove to be entirely pointless.
We had a chance to vaccinate the world, but rich countries chose to prioritise themselves. No matter how normal things begin to look in the UK, the pandemic is not over. And unless wealthy countries learn to share, it won’t be over for an excruciatingly long time.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Beccy Reeves
Point of Information
Realism Dominates Global Health – A Conservative Response
The world system has always been dominated by realism. States acting in their own interest is nothing new, even during a pandemic. If it were not for the self-interest of some countries, we would have very few vaccines. However, it is important that donations occur to other nations, as there are self-interested benefits of doing so (and not just preventing a vaccine-resistant variant, though this is bound to happen eventually).
The paragraph I have a particular problem with, in Beccy’s piece, is where she states that rich countries invested in vaccine development in order for first dibs of a vaccine. She states that poorer countries don’t have the money to put into such a risky investment. However, this fails to take into account that had this investment not occurred, then we would be sitting around with much fewer vaccines, and a lot more deaths. It’s unsurprising that richer nations wanted to see something come of their investment, that’s usually how it works. Governments don’t just give money away freely, else it isn’t really an investment. Also, imagine the uproar from the host country’s citizens, if the vaccine that your country has developed went overseas. It would be huge.
We don’t really have to imagine either. Beccy points to India, but it is more an example of why countries should be self prioritising. It is the largest vaccine producer, yet it is facing a vaccine shortage, costing its population in turn. This is another mark against Modi’s handling of the COVID pandemic, adding to the ones that were previously outlined here. In fact, the West stepped up and helped India, providing ventilators and oxygen. The UK alone sent over 1,000 ventilators and over 500 oxygen concentrators.
Beccy also critiques richer countries for securing bilateral trade deals of their own, alongside the multinational COVAX scheme. But to me, this is a misunderstanding of how COVAX works. COVAX was set up to be a vaccine fund for middle and lower-income countries. It was not something to be used by rich countries as well. Rich countries had the power to sort themselves out, so organising deals with vaccine manufacturers was the way to do it. They shouldn’t be using COVAX. Apart from Canada, no rich country has taken out of the scheme. And I do agree that Canada using this was wrong, as it has the power to sort itself out. That was a failure of their government for not taking that chance. And then stealing from poorer countries to try and cover up their failure.
It is undeniable that wealthier countries have found themselves in a fortunate position regarding vaccines. Wealthier countries should be donating vaccine supplies too. There are selfish benefits to doing so, as it gains influence in other parts of the world. China has seen the benefits of this. Not wanting to be outdone, the US has upped its donations. Realism dominates global health.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
Time for wealthy countries to abandon the pursuit of profit as a central goal and help decrease Vaccine Inequality – A Labour Response
What is the point of supranational bodies like the WHO if no one is going to listen to them? The WHO made it very clear that when the Covid-19 vaccination dream became a reality the roll-out needed to prioritise frontline health care workers and vulnerable people regardless of where they lived. Both Beccy and Kieran are right to highlight the trend of countries looking after their own. Realistically, it would be hard to say I expected the vaccine roll-out to go any other way. However, this should be seen as a damning indictment of how committed wealthy countries are to global equality. Goal number 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals charter authored by the UN is good health and wellbeing for all, and yet wealthy countries like the UK, China who have signed up to it have simply not done enough to support poorer countries.
Moreover, the US, whilst recognising the SDG’s as a jumping-off point, has refused to commit to any of the 17 goals formally. The pre-ordering of millions of vaccines, and the failure of governments to apply pressure to health companies they are stakeholders in to share technology and vaccine formulas, is indicative of the endemic inequality which is garnered by the for-profit approach of rich countries. It is understandable that the UK and US wished to vaccinate their populations. As a beneficiary of that, I too am pleased. But an issue arises when major pharmaceutical firms like Moderna and Pfizer refuse to share their vaccine formula with other producers and suppliers at cost. Despite this being a global pandemic which is by its global nature an issue for the whole human population these major firms are refusing to give up their potential profit. Pzifer/BioNtech have predicted sales of over 30 billion USD in 2021, and given the fact, Covid vaccination may become a yearly event their heightened revenue is likely here to stay. The emphasis on profit over what is best for everyone is not something I can condone.
Even when vaccines are reaching the poorest countries their delivery is often being held up by a lack of national infrastructure due to years of economic strangulation as powerful countries continue to abuse them through aid imperialism. It is imperative that wealthy powerful nations set aside the desire to continuously grow their GDP and look at global equality as the primary goal.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Henry McKeever
I am entering the third year of a BA in History and Ancient History at the University of Exeter. I have a fascination with the past otherwise and you would hope so, otherwise I may have chosen the wrong degree. But, writing for POI gives me the opportunity to talk politics which is something I simply can’t avoid.
Hello, my name is Kieran Burt and I am going into second year at Nottingham Trent University studying Politics and International Relations. I first developed an interest in politics through reading the Dictator’s Handbook by Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, when I was 16, and have furthered my interest by studying politics at A level and now at university.