Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Share the Vaccine

 Vaccines have brought hope amid the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 2.4 million people and brought world economies to a halt. Vaccines have been presented as a remedy that would put an end to the immense suffering – physical, emotional, and economic – caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

If deployment of the vaccine continues at the present rate, only a few of the world’s richest countries are expected to achieve herd immunity before the end of the summer.

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO),  Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, thanked the G7 countries for their pledges to provide $7.5 billion to support “affordable and equitable access to vaccines” and treatments for COVID-19.

But he said that “even if you have the money, if you cannot use the money to buy vaccines … having the money doesn’t mean anything”. He said some rich countries’ approaches to manufacturers to secure more vaccines are “affecting the deals with COVAX, and even the amount that was allocated for COVAX was reduced because of this”. 

Tedros underlined the importance of using every opportunity to step up vaccine production “because, with increased production, the pie is increased, then there is a better volume to share. Otherwise, with shortages, sharing is difficult,” he said. “And that’s exactly what’s happening now.”

 German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier conceded that money alone was not the solution, adding that vaccines were still a “scarce commodity”.

The Lancet concludes, “new vaccines will mean little to individuals around the world if they are unable to get vaccinated in a timely manner”.

Some have put the blame for the vaccine debacle on the cumbersome bureaucracy of governments and on anti-vaxxer sentiments. But the root of the problem lies elsewhere. It has to do with a dysfunctional  economic system propped up by three ideological myths: that the private sector is best at innovation; that markets are best at managing supply and demand; and that the outcome of globalisation is fair for all.

One myth of capitalism is that entrepreneurship is the only effective source of innovation and progress. But Big Pharma has long demonstrated this is not necessarily so. For decades, vaccines have been de-prioritised by the industry as insufficiently profitable. 

Another capitalist myth is that competitive markets are the best regulators of supply and demand and the best at achieving the optimal distribution of goods. In early 2020, we witnessed countries started to outbid each other for vital medical equipment, such as PPE and ventilators. Demand was high across the board, but supply only went to the wealthy few, at the price of many human lives. This is now happening again, as, amid severe undersupply of vaccines.

The third  myth of capitalism portrays globalisation as equally beneficial for all. But a  look at the global distribution of vaccines shows that this is far not the case. Western countries are able to acquire vaccines while poorer nations are struggling to access supply.

WHO chief urges rich nations not to undermine COVAX scheme | Coronavirus pandemic News | Al Jazeera

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