April 23, 2021 at 12:10 am
Ernesto M. Hilario
"What the rich nations in the West are doing is vaccine hoarding, and they're not helping put an early end to the pandemic."
The plain truth is that at the rate things are going, we'll probably be waiting an eternity to achieve our goal of herd immunity of 70 to 80 percent of our total population of 110 million. That means 70 to 80 million Filipinos who should be inoculated with the precious vaccines as soon as possible, or else we would have no end of the lockdowns that have marked our main recurring response to the coronavirus since mid-March last year.
Banish the thought of our getting herd immunity soon enough, as the developed countries appear to be in no mood to prioritize the developing ones, including us, at this point.
"Vaccine nationalism" is the term being used nowadays even by the World Health Organization (WHO) to describe the seeming proclivity of the rich countries, particularly those that have developed vaccines for preventing the further spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, to keep the greater part of their vaccine production within their borders, for exclusive use by their own citizens. That's being polite on the part of the WHO, or perhaps politically correct, so as not to ruffle feathers within and outside the agency.
But to be blunt about it, what the rich nations in the West are doing is vaccine hoarding, and they're not helping put an early end to the pandemic, and in all likelihood even prolonging it.
We're talking about the United States and the members of the European Union. In the US, there's at least two vaccines, Pfizer—a US and German joint venture—and Moderna, that are now available. In Europe, there's Astrazeneca developed by a UK-Swiss partnership. The Netherlands produces the one-dose Johnson & Johnson developed by a US firm that has gotten the nod of the WHO.
There's Russia, which was the first to claim that it had already concluded test trials on Sputnik V before all the rest. And China has also developed at least two vaccines, one from Sinovac and the other from Sinopharm. Beijing has donated an initial 500,000 doses of Sinovac to Manila, plus an additional 500,000 recently, with 1 million doses of the procured supply expected to arrive yesterday, April 22. We've also obtained 600,000 doses of Astrazeneca under the Covax facility. But that's all we have had for now, versus the needed 70-80 million doses.
In a recent article in The Guardian, Fatima Bhutto pointed out the unfair distribution of the precious vaccines: "Rich countries with 14 percent of the world’s population have secured 53 percent of the best vaccines. Almost all of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines will go to rich countries. The Moderna vaccine will go to rich countries exclusively; it is not even being offered to the poor. In fact, nine out of 10 people in poor countries may never be vaccinated at all. Washington is sitting on vaccines, making sure no one gets any while the US needs them. The European Union has exported 34 million doses to, of all places, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong— countries that have no problem sourcing or paying for vaccines. In fact, the EU sent about 9 million doses to the UK, a country which, no longer in the EU, also has what amounts in practice to an export ban of its own, official denials notwithstanding."
If the US and Europe will give priority to their own citizens and leave the rest of the world to their own devices, what will happen?
Dr. Gavin Yamey, professor of global health and public policy at Duke University and director of the Center for Policy Impact in Global Health, echoed the same sentiments at the time when there were already multiple vaccine development efforts worldwide.
Vaccine development, he argued, have been "supported mainly mostly by public money, and each one should be considered as a global public good. Governments can and should insist that, as a condition of getting public funding, companies must make the price affordable. The final price of any vaccine should be one that governments of poor and rich countries alike can afford so all citizens can get it free at the point of care."
Further on, he explains: "Many countries lack the resources, infrastructure, and health care personnel to mount full-scale efforts to detect the virus and prevent it from spreading, meaning it will move quickly and easily among populations. In these settings, the number of cases is likely to grow exponentially, putting stress on already burdened health care workers and facilities and making it harder to provide timely care for those who are ill. Vaccines will be an important tool for preventing such a catastrophe...For those with resources — rich countries and rich people — a vaccine would be valuable, one of several tools we will need to prevent the most serious effects of the new coronavirus. But for those who are poor or who live in poor countries, it may be essential. Without it, they will suffer disproportionately and unnecessarily."
The doctor believes that the international community can prevail over pandemics if vaccines are quickly developed and made widely accessible. "But without vigorous efforts to secure equitable access, vaccine distribution will follow the logic of the market...To let a coronavirus vaccine be monopolized by the rich will perpetuate the unjust economics of outbreaks, where the poor always pay the heaviest price. Allowing this to happen would be a moral disgrace."
In conclusion, Dr. Yamey said: "Making vaccinesavailable only to the rich is not just immoral, it’s also bad public health policy. We’ll want everyone, rich or poor, insured or not, to be protected from the new coronavirus. Protecting others helps to protect everyone."
Well said, from where we sit, and a cautionary tale that leaders of the developed countries should bear in mind. (Email: [email protected]