People’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine

21st August 2021

Premier League football managers have this week been bemoaning the fact that not enough of their players are getting COVID 19 vaccinations.  This could be seen by cynics as getting their excuses in early ahead of a bad run of results but it is symptomatic of a deeper issue.

Premier League footballers are generally in the under 30 years old age group, the very cohort which appear to be more prone to vaccine hesitancy due to the social media perpetuation of a variety of conspiracy theories.  This is by no means a phenomenon confined to Britain or, for that matter, overpaid millionaires on the sports field.  Anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown protests have been an ongoing feature of French weekends for some time now.  Australia is the latest nation to report protests in the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne.

Such protests are a luxury only afforded to the richer nations of the West who, in their drive for maximum vaccination, have effectively been hoarding vaccines and denying access to developing nations.

Over the coming weeks 10 million vaccines manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, originating from the Aspen factory in South Africa, will be exported to Europe.  The European Union, with a population of 440 million people has administered nearly 500 million vaccines.  Roughly 50% of European adult populations have been fully vaccinated.   

Compare this to the situation across Africa.  With a population of 1.3 billion across the continent only an estimated 1.8% of the population have been fully vaccinated.  No prizes for guessing at which end of the social spectrum that level of vaccination has been concentrated.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a target for September that 10% of citizens should be vaccinated.  Of the 54 countries in Africa, it is estimated that 47 will miss even that modest goal.  Through the international Covax programme, set up by the WHO to minimise inequities in vaccine distribution, the West promised funding to deliver 700 million vaccines to Africa by the end of the year.  So far only 60 million have been secured.

Political intervention by African leaders is beginning to shift the balance slightly.  South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, threatened to ban all exports of vaccines from South Africa until the EU agreed that all Johnson & Johnson vaccines produced in Africa, stay in Africa.  Having come through the realities of political apartheid in South Africa, Ramaphosa is now in the forefront of the struggle against vaccine apartheid.

Vaccine hoarding in the West means that African leaders, through the African Union, are now turning to China for supplies, a deal for 200 million vaccines being imminent.  The West will no doubt cry foul and claim that this is further evidence of the Chinese trying to extend their influence in the developing world.  Any spare capacity in the vaccination programme in Cuba will no doubt be offered to those countries who are most in need, again likely to invite the vitriol of the West.  Support provided across the developing world by the Cuban Henry Reeves Medical Brigades is already demonised by the West as a form of infiltration.

It is no coincidence that, in both instances, the countries most likely to share the benefits of their research and development programmes are coming from a different economic and ethical base to the countries in the West.   To further put that contrast in context the United States has 1.96 billion additional vaccine doses, the EU 1bn extra shots and Canada a surplus 191 million.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance is campaigning for pharmaceutical companies to share their knowledge free from patents, in order for vaccines to be more widely produced.  Under the slogan “We need a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine”, the campaign is aiming to transform how vaccines are produced and distributed.  More information is available here

That this campaign runs directly counter to the profit generating ethos of the Big Pharma companies is self evident.  The reality remains however that the biggest danger to defeating COVID is the potential for rapid spread amongst unvaccinated populations and new mutations arising.  COVID 19 is no respecter of corporate profits and the campaign to break the grip of Big Pharma, in this area in particular, is a matter of urgency.

As WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has said on many occasions, no one is safe anywhere, until everyone is safe everywhere.  US President Joe Biden’s Chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, made clear this month that,

“If you allow the virus to freely circulate and not try to stop it, sooner or later, there is a likelihood that you’ll get another (worse) variant that could…be more problematic than the Delta.”

Four billion COVID 19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide of which 90% have gone to those in the wealthy West, while less than 1% of people in the Global South are vaccinated. 

Meanwhile the debate in Britain and the rest of the capitalist world remains focussed upon which younger age groups can be vaccinated and which older age groups should receive booster vaccines.  This can only be described as fiddling while Rome burns, on an epic scale.

It is no great leap to see that the failure of capitalism to address the needs of the people with regard to their health and wellbeing is equally true when it comes to their need for peace, jobs and decent housing for much of the world’s population.  More and more people are beginning to join the dots and recognise that the failures exposed by the COVID pandemic are systemic failures of capitalism and require a radical, revolutionary response. 

The future depends upon even greater numbers coming to that same realisation.

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