A vaccine apartheid is unfolding across the globe

An unjust deployment of COVID-19 vaccines reveals a ‘vaccine apartheid’

The current pandemic illustrates the violation of human rights by the powerful few over the many. As the world finds itself in a state of ‘lockdown’ induced lethargy, this has become clear. The COVID-19 vaccine should be a public good — but instead, a global vaccine apartheid is currently unfolding.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to illustrate many injustices prevalent in our world despite efforts by our politicians to turn our attention to the silver linings at the onset of the virus. As the various vaccines roll out, one can’t help but notice a sense of preferential treatment being administered in a realm where impartiality should rule. Everyone should have the right to life-saving vaccines, but the current disparities in vaccine deployment showcase a shocking disregard for the populations in the Global South.

Your health and your life are no longer regulated by principles of morality and ethics but viewed from the scope of economics and your relevant value thereof. In fact one can disregard ethics entirely when in a global pandemic, vaccine manufacturers stand to make incredible profits of up to $10 billion (Moderna) and $19 billion (Pfizer). This despite companies like Moderna receiving $1 billion worth in taxpayer grants. One would think with so much public funding the public would be entitled to fair prices or even free access, unfortunately this will not be the case as the abovementioned Moderna intends charging the highest price of all. Dale T McKinley perhaps summarizes things best:

“Like the Wall Street hedge fund managers prior to the 2008 crash, the private and state vaccine pharmaceuticals (along with their political protectors/shareholders) are in the process of gorging themselves at the capitalists-only feast that has been prepared for them. As usual, the gorgers will never pay for the bill. Meanwhile, the vast majority of humanity will be left to scramble for whatever small crumbs remain.”

‘Vaccinationalism’

As mounting concerns over possible vaccines rise, so too do the concerns regarding the duplicitous nature of the powers at be. Through social distancing and self isolation — a COVID measure that denotes class privilege — the wealthy and those that can telework can stay at home, whilst essential workers are asked to be at the frontlines of the crisis. Workers of low economic status are forced by the very nature of their poverty to continue working in high risk environments despite ‘COVID measures’ at the workplace, placing themselves and their communities at risk of infection. Who benefits from their sacrifice ? The Governments members and Corporation owners who have if we are honest been self isolating for centuries.

The distinction of us and them is elucidated clearly with the eagerly anticipated release of Vaccines this year. However that anticipation is dashed when one comes from a middle or low income country as it stands. On 4 of June 2020 UN Secretary General António Guterres stated that, “a COVID-19 vaccine must be seen as a global public good, a people’s vaccine”. However, vaccine manufacturers are opposing this statement through every rhetorical weapon in their arsenal.

It is all well and good proposing equitable access to the vaccine, when the reality is that wealthy countries have already preordered a surplus in vaccines leaving most notably the Global South in a vaccine deficit. Mariana Mazzucato, Henry Lishi and Els Torreele have also written that:

“wealthy countries have been buying up potential vaccine candidates through advanced purchase agreements through bilateral agreements with drug companies, Wealthy countries representing just 13% of the worlds population have bought at least half of the worlds potential vaccine supply, before the vaccine candidates have even been approved.”

High income countries have already acquired ‘close to 80% of the Pfizer/ BioNTech and Moderna vaccine doses that will be available in the first year’. To put it into perspective, this 13% have paid for 3.8 billion doses compared to the 3.2 billion doses paid for by the rest of the world combined. The concern over the vaccine runs deeper still when in October last year South Africa and India submitted a joint proposal of a waiver of certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement (Trade-Related Aspects of International Property Rights) for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19 for the duration of the pandemic. Albeit with a list of support from other middle and low income countries, the proposal is being opposed by a few high income countries who have already paid for their doses.

In January 2021 the Director General of the World Health Organisation DR Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned of a “catastrophic moral failure” when he shared that by mid January only 25 vaccine doses had been administered in low income countries, as opposed to the 39 million doses administered so far in as little as 49 High and middle income countries. 25 as opposed to 39 million.

As it stands in the present? As Pawel Wargan from the Progressive International recently stated: “10 countries have administered 75% of all global vaccinations, while 130 countries have yet to receive a single dose.” Let that sink in. Below you will find a demographic on the vaccine distribution.

DiEM25’s response, and how to fund it!

When Jonas Salk developer of the polio vaccine was asked who owned the patent, he responded with “the people”.

DiEM25 has called for free vaccines for everyone and the property rights over patents to be socialised. The movement is emphasising global solidarity over vaccinationalism:

“The European Council should immediately order the European Central Bank to pay whatever sums are necessary to purchase all the doses of the vaccine Europeans need, plus another equal quantity to be sent, free of charge, to low income countries. In summary, using the considerable monetary power of the ECB, the cost of speeding up production and distribution of vaccines can be covered immediately and fairly.”

DiEM25 is calling out the medical-industrial complex which “represents a clear and present danger to European citizens” through their monopolisation of patents.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect DiEM25’s official policies or positions.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

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