The Covid-19 vaccine has offered some respite to the most vulnerable in western society, however, the developing world’s access and rollout of vaccines are stifled and exacerbated by inequality.
“I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.
Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritize bilateral deals, going around COVAX, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue. This is wrong.” (World Health Organisation, 2021)
The World Health Organisation’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu’s statement illustrates the challenging situation in much of the developing world in terms of delivering a prompt vaccine rollout.
The widening gap in terms of the standard of living between the developed and developing world is a significant indicator of the growing inequality.
The impulsive, selfish and unfair attitude and actions of some countries, organisations and individuals during the pandemic in terms of unjustly securing vaccines under false/ misleading premises has been upsetting and disheartening, to say the least.
As societies across the world are in the process of reverting back to some form of normalcy, with the lifting of lockdowns and the rollout of vaccines.
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic originating approximately 18-24 months ago in China has forced the world over to become accustomed to national/ regional lockdowns. Social isolation among many other challenges, such as; the housing crisis, climate change, mental health crisis, insecure employment, bereavement/ illness in the family, etc.. are just some of the obstacles challenging modern society.
The numerous challenges faced by all during this time and the sacrifice within this period inevitably have resulted in family and friends losing valuable time with acquaintances and loved ones, whilst also forgoing vital activities. Subsequently, the health guidelines bound individuals, inhibiting them from seeing people outside of their immediate family home/ residence.
As western society seemingly emerges from the depths of lockdowns, we are left to consider what are the potential pitfalls or areas that might blindsight us as a society in the future. The concerning nature of the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19 and forecasted variants has been highlighted by medical teams in Ireland and around the world.
Simultaneously, parts of Europe aim to complete vaccination of their population by the end of summer, whereas in parts of Africa/ developing world they are not anticipated to achieve significant coverage in 2024. The growing disparity between rich and poor is illustrated during the course of this pandemic.
Another area that has been highlighted as a key factor influencing potential variants, is the availability and uptake of vaccines nationally and globally. The transmissibility of Covid-19 and its various variants coupled with the fact we live in a globalised world that has low cost international travel previously fueled the spread of the virus around the globe.
As documented by New Zealand’s success, the current quarantine model deployed for international travellers has been highlighted as a beneficial solution in terms of enabling safe travel. The new EU Covid-19 Digital Certificate system that will enter into operation in Ireland from the 19th of July 2021 is the first step towards resuming commercial air travel at a level akin to Pre-Covid numbers.
As the most vulnerable in Irish society are now pretty much fully vaccinated, we are left waiting for the dispersion and delivery of the final vaccines required to have everyone willing and able in the country immunised towards the end of the year.
The question of vaccine equity has at times arisen throughout the pandemic since the discovery of the success of the vaccine. The core questions posed when discussing this topic is the ability to scale up production in order to catch up with demand. The focus therefore must be centred on developing or repurposing infrastructure to enable scaling up and ascertaining how best to fund this for the developing world.
Call on the Irish government to create a more equitable vaccine rollout globally by clicking here.
The UN’s campaign COVAX initial objective was to provide two billion doses of vaccines worldwide in 2021, and 1.8 billion doses to 92 poorer countries by early 2022. (BBC, 2021) The intention of the COVAX campaign is to vaccinate 20% of the population across 92 low or medium-income countries, beginning with healthcare workers and the most vulnerable.
Unicef has similarly created an innovative way of getting involved with the COVAX campaign offering the opportunity to play a part in providing a vaccine to someone less fortunate in the developing world. The campaign is centred on encouraging people who have been vaccinated to donate in order to provide a vaccine to someone unable to afford it, which is facilitated by Unicef and to date has raised enough for 151,883 vaccinations according to the company website, as of June 2021.
There is currently a petition for vaccine equity and a more equitable system of distribution on future patents/ treatment that you can sign in order to play your part in creating a more equitable and inclusive world/ society. As an EU citizen, a European has the right to apply directly to the European Commission, with a European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) in order to propose a legislative amendment. A minimum of 1 million people from across the EU must support an initiative for it to be considered by the Commission. This ECI is focused on ensuring that intellectual property rights and patents do not hamper the accessibility or availability of any future vaccine or Covid-19 treatment.
In the backdrop of all this, there has been an air of scepticism in terms of uptake on the Covid-19 vaccine by some in society due to the quick time between creation and commercial mass-scale production among other documented concerns.
According to government data in Ireland, the uptake to date is encouraging from the population that has been offered the vaccine. The growth of fake news and the echo chamber that is social media has cultivated a priming environment for conspiracy.
However, I think everyone can agree that if someone in the developed world is entitled to be inoculated for free, why should someone in the developing world or living in poverty, who wants a vaccine in the same age/ risk group have to forgo what is regarded as a lifeline for recipients in both the developed and developing world?
Not to mention the forecasted spread of the Delta variant and anticipated variants of the Covid-19 virus, which will again impact society globally. Although the developing world will be the worst hit, as seen recently in India with the Delta variant. The result of a lack of inaction might be apparent by the inequality of vaccine distribution that will likely have a detrimental impact in the developed world in time to come, as we live in a globalised society that significantly spreads disease globally in rapid time, via air-travel and supply chains, etc…
Citizens and organisations can support the rollout of a more equitable system in terms of distribution of Covid-19 vaccines by getting involved as mentioned previously.
Unfortunately, without the support and resources of people in the developed world getting on board with an equitable rollout, people in the developing world face a potential perilous challenge. Subsequently, if people put pressure on their respective governments in the developed world there is the potential to achieve a more just society and safe lives.
Until all in society, who are vulnerable, able and wish to take a vaccine have this right, we in the developed world will be complicit in an unjust and unfair society that will also be at the mercy of evolving variants. If we do not operate in a more equitable and altruistic manner, we are doomed to repeat societies past transgressions.
At the end of the day, a person’s health is their wealth.
Written by – Stephen O’Brien
* Updated – 08/07/2021 to include a petition from peoplesvaccine.ie.
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