Vaccines, rich nations should help poor countries - GulfToday

Vaccines, rich nations should help poor countries

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Fransella Kriestel receives her second Moderna vaccine in San Antonio, Texas. File/Agence France-Presse

“We are not safe until we all are safe,” should be the global motto at this time of pandemic but it is not. As usual, politicians in wealthy mainly Western countries have prioritised their own interests and ignored the less fortunate lands in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Russia and China have both donated and sold vaccines to developing countries and China’s Sinopharm is set to be manufactured in the UAE, but the US, Britain and Germany which have made the four main Western vaccines have not been forthcoming. The US Biden administration has agreed to donate 60 million doses of Britain’s Astrazenica vaccine — an exception which is mass produced in India — but is debating whether to allow the sharing of patents of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Protective officials have warned that waiving patents could enable rivals of the US to obtain intellectual property and generate competition for limited vaccine ingredients.

Progressives and health professionals have urged the administration to grant temporary waivers that would permit firms other than original producers to make COVID vaccines, thereby increasing availability. A case for temporarily lifting patents has been lodged by India and South Africa with the World Trade Organisation. Other countries have joined the effort which is, naturally, opposed by the US, Canada, and Britain.

Catholic Pope Francis is among the world figures to back the waiver option which is rejected by pharmaceutical companies as well as other multi-billionaire firms that hold patents for other major items. The administration’s corona-adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci supports the proposition, arguing that developing countries could soon make their own vaccines.

This could, however, take time as many governments would not have the short-term investment, technical, and manufacturing capabilities to provide urgent relief from the pandemic. They will require expertise from the firms which have developed the vaccines and enough time to build facilities for manufacture and delivery.

Since innocent coronavirus victims are being infected and dying the world over, wealthy countries should donate millions, even billions, of doses until developing countries can make their own vaccines and produce enough doses to counter current infections, tackle mutations, and provide six-monthly booster shots and annual vaccinations. Therefore, the solution involves not only sharing vaccines but also patents so the battle against COVID can be, at least partly, won.

It may take years to eradicate it completely or suppress it so the world can recover from this pandemic.

As coronavirus cases waned in the West in recent weeks, they waxed in India and Brazil, creating crises of catastrophic proportions. Mutations of the virus have multiplied and spread in these countries, threatening to engulf the population of the entire globe, even those vaccinated against identified variants. Global cases have soared to 150 million and the death toll has risen to 3.15 million.

The UAE is among the countries with the highest vaccination rate, at 65 per cent of its population, using a variety of vaccines as they have been produced. Israel has vaccinated more than half its population, making its efforts the second most effective. The US trails at 30 per cent of its adult population.

Israel, however, shares a land with the Palestinians whom it has not vaccinated and who could easily infect Jewish Israelis not yet been inoculated or even those who have been. The Israel/Palestine situation is straightforward First World/Third World relationship with the rich receiving care and vaccines while the poor do not, risking infection among their exclusionist neighbours.

The world’s most populous country and vector of the disease, China has administered the largest number of doses but has inoculated only 13 per cent of its citizens. However, China has managed to largely contain COVID. According to UN statistics, China has reported only around 103,500 confirmed COVID cases and 4,857 deaths. This is due to the harsh measures which were imposed as soon as the pandemic emerged and are reimposed as soon as local infections appear.

India contained the virus relatively well until early April but mass election rallies, religious festivals, and governmental denial and laxity have produced a sharp spike in infections.

Warned of a new, more infectious variant in March, the government did nothing to combat it. COVID is out of control. India has registered 400,000 infections over 24 hours, the highest global count.

This is expected to rise to 500,000 within weeks.

Middle class and upper middle class Indians have locked down at home as best they can in cities and large towns. The virus has travelled to small towns and villages with jobless workers returning home, spreading contagion to the whole country. The already weak health system has collapsed, crematoriums and cemeteries are overwhelmed with the dead as infections have risen to 19 million, and the death toll has reached more than 208,000. This is, of course, understated because no one really knows how many Indians have suffered COVID, how many have recovered, or how many have died. In a long article published by The Guardian, one of India’s leading novelists, Arundhati Roy, accuses the government of Narendra Modi of committing a crime against humanity and spells out in detail why she levels this brutal accusation.

The Indian variant has spread to 17 countries, including Britain, Switzerland, and Iran, prompting some governments to ban arrivals of people travelling from India. Australia, which has, a large Indian community, has taken a particularly hard line by adopting measures to detain violators, who arrive via another country, with five years’ imprisonment and a heavy fine.

Brazilians never had a chance to fight the virus. Arrogant, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is a COVID denier although he contracted the virus and survived due to good health care denied the vast majority of poor Brazilians. As he gives priority to the economy, like his mentor Donald Trump in the US, Bolsonaro has done little to tackle the spread.

The country’s public health system has been degraded by austerity. Like Trump, Bolsonaro has dismissed the virus, refused to mount any national response, and undermined state authorities’ efforts to impose lockdowns, mask mandates, and social distancing regulations. Consquently Brazil’s case total is 14.7 million and its death toll has passed the 400-million mark, making it the second most deadly country after the US. Daily cases range between 60-70,000.

For the global war against COVID to succeed, governments which have had some success in countering the virus will not only have to provide medications, test kits, and vaccines to deprived peoples and organise vaccine manufacturing facilities in their countries but also tackle irresponsible leaders who inflict the pandemic on millions of their citizens.

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