The first lesson of the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be already forgotten. In the mad rush to secure their own vaccine supplies through bilateral deals with the pharmaceutical majors, the richer nations of the world are flexing their influence and financial muscle while crowding out and marginalising smaller and poorer nations.
Since the first vaccines began rolling out, all the talk about the pandemic exposing the integrated and co-dependent nature of the world and our common responsibility to each other has been revealed as just so much platitude. This unholy scramble for advantage may yet prove to be the biggest barrier to bringing the Covid-19 pandemic to an end, as we learn the hard way why global problems require global solutions.
While public health experts have pointed out the danger of a globally lopsided vaccination programme, the industrialised nations have gone ahead securing massive supplies, even as they are patently unprepared for distributing them.
Perhaps it was too much to expect governments that have invested public money not to prioritise the needs of their own people, even when logic suggested that frontline staff and the most vulnerable across the world should be first in line.
We therefore commend Caricom heads for taking a regional stand on the issue of inequitable access to vaccines. Its call for a global summit in the context of the World Health Organisation’s ACT-A Facilitation Council to discuss equitable access and distribution of vaccines is timely, given that it is due to meet around the end of this month.
When it last met in November, the council acknowledged that the fastest and most effective solution to the Covid-19 crisis was through global multilateral collaboration and solidarity. However, the WHO’s COVAX distribution facility on which many low- and medium-income countries are depending for their vaccine supplies, faces the very real problem of money. Three weeks ago the New York Times reported that the Act-Accelerator Partnership between the World Health Organisation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had raised less than US$5 billion of a targeted US$38 billion.
Common sense would suggest that the economic recovery so urgently being pursued by the world’s most industrialised nations cannot be achieved by pursuing nationalistic agendas in an era of integrated markets and supply chains. Ignoring the public health needs of the large majority of the world is akin to shooting oneself in the economic foot.
A significant threat to our hope to begin vaccinating the population from the second quarter is not only the shortage being created by the high demand from richer nations, but the botched distribution processes in some of the countries which are likely to exacerbate the problem.
We hope that Caricom’s united voice on the issue is also a signal of its own willingness to adopt a collaborative approach to immunisation against Covid-19, given the economic inequality that exists among countries within the region itself. Having championed the cause of equitable access and distribution of vaccines, it would be surprising if the larger members such as Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica would turn around and prioritise their own populations at the expense of our less financially endowed neighbours.