Triggered by a new brand of misguided patriotism, vaccine nationalism, COVID-19 vaccines have been hi-jacked by the rich. Everything in this world is stacked up against the poor and the downtrodden. The Covid-19 vaccine is no exception because some of world’s richest nations, including the US, Canada and UK, seem to have cornered most of the supplies — whilst marginalizing the world’s poorer nations. Vaccine nationalism is one facet of the widening economic inequalities between the developing and the developed world.
Rich countries with 14% of the world’s population have bought more than half of all the most promising vaccines. The deals made by rich countries mean they have “hoarded enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations nearly 3 times over.” Canada has reportedly bought enough doses to immunize its citizens five times over.
Meanwhile, nine out of 10 people living in 67 poor countries will miss out on the vaccine in 2021. Covid-19 is being described as a disease of the haves and the have-nots.
“Unless something changes dramatically, billions of people around the world will not receive a safe and effective vaccine for Covid-19 for years to come,” according to Anna Marriott, health policy manager for Oxfam.
Vaccine nationalism will deprive citizens of low-income countries of COVID-19 vaccines for many months to come.
Asked about the “lip service” by rich countries on equitable access to vaccine while glaring inequalities persist in the distribution to Africa and other developing countries, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters December 9: “It’s true we are seeing vaccine nationalism moving with full speed. But the vaccines the African continent needs, and we all need… has to be properly supported. Or we will not be able to fight the pandemic anywhere effectively”.
The scandal is not just that rich nations are marginalizing poor nations from scarce supplies but the bigger scandal is that there is only such scarcity of supplies because companies are being allowed to hoard licenses and know-how. Between 1996 and 2001, the prioritization of companies’ intellectual property over people’s health meant millions of people in poor countries died from AIDS when the treatment to HIV was known, and producible cheaply, but was kept by profit-driven policy deliberately too costly.
Ben Phillips, author of ‘How to Fight Inequality’, explained, “it’s astonishingly mean-spirited, and utterly short-sighted, that the same approach is being pursued now with Covid-19... No one is safe until everyone is safe, and the world can’t recover till all countries can,” said Phillips.
Professor Kunal Sen, Director at the Helsinki-based UN University– World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER), said, “The world needs a people’s vaccine which can be provided universally, and it is important for the international community to develop a vaccine which is compatible with universal access.”