The world’s misfortune isn’t the COVID-19 pandemic so much as global failure of leadership - GulfToday

The world’s misfortune isn’t the COVID-19 pandemic so much as global failure of leadership

Sean O'Grady


Associate Editor of the Independent.

Associate Editor of the Independent.


Photo has been used for illustrative purposes/

With luck – by which I mean vast amounts of skill and professional dedication – the Oxford University/AstraZeneca team will develop a COVID-19 vaccine. They now say it will be ready to present to the regulators by the end of the year. Despite continuing worries about the coronavirus mutating, so that people can catch versions of it more than once, and thus maybe make the vaccine less effective, the arrival of any kind of vaccine is unalloyed good news.

Many other teams across the world are making similar progress. The Russians, improbably, claim to have already cracked it. President Putin’s daughter is apparently the human guinea pig for it; so it must be true. But who will get the vaccine first?

Imagine, for a moment, that the “Oxford vaccine” would first only be available, exclusively, to people living in the City of Oxford, or, at a pinch, around Oxfordshire. All those healthy young students, people with no underlying conditions, the thin, the non-Bame – all would receive priority doses even though there are many more vulnerable folk, front-line staff and Bame fellow citizens who happen to live outside Oxford/Oxfordshire who have a more pressing clinical claim.

Hardly fair; and hardly effective, seeing as we can all wander in and out of Oxfordshire anyway, spreading disease as we go. Yet Oxford gets the vaccine because Oxford developed it.

Such an absurdity would not be tolerated. Yet it is demanded at the national level, under the doctrine of what we may term “vaccine nationalism”. It’s an ugly word for an ugly state of mind, and, sad to say, it is taken for granted. Either by using their huge purchasing power or by government diktat, the rich West is buying up all the available supplies of any and all vaccines even before they’ve been tested. Donald Trump wants them given to every American by election day in November, regardless of safety. It’s a typically grotesque move.

Yet this time Trump is hardly alone and most Western governments have much the same attitude. The least vulnerable life of someone in the developed world is worth more than that of the most vulnerable person who happens to live in, say, Gaza, where the epidemic is now starting to take hold. Poor, overcrowded, with very weak healthcare and shortages of everything, COVID-19 will be at its deadliest in such places.

In other words, the virus is also destroying the notion of the universal value of a human life. Or, rather, our own selfishness is eroding that principle – given that no sane democratic politician in the West would get up and advocate sending (ie. donating) the first batch of proven vaccines to, say, at-risk Palestinians or Yemenis.

It is in fact the next great global Covid challenge, disrupting the vaccine on clinical need rather than financial power – and the West seems uninterested in meeting it. It is the kind of task the World Health Organisation is supposed to be there for, but of course the WHO is being undermined by the power struggle between China and America. Millions more will die needlessly among the teeming populations of middle-income and developing countries, let alone those beset by the proxy wars of regional powers.

Even on a selfish view, eradication of coronavirus cannot be achieved except on a global basis – it cannot be permitted to live in Covid sinks, because it will not stay there.

There’s not much chance of a rational, clinically-driven distribution of the vaccine in the age of America First and widespread nationalism, and there’s a world shortage of compassion right now, too. As Donald Trump remarked so callously of the death toll among his own people, “it is what it is”. The world’s misfortune isn’t the COVID-19 pandemic so much as global failure of leadership.

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