Join Hafta-Ichi to Research the article “The Guardian view on sharing vaccines: protecting others protects us | Coronavirus”
Can naked self-interest achieve what a sense of justice has signally failed to do? Perhaps. Friday’s G7 meeting offers some hope that, at last, wealthy countries are waking up to the need to share vaccines more equitably with the rest of the world. More than 193m doses have been given globally, including more than 16m in the UK – yet 130 countries have yet to receive a single dose.
Boris Johnson, the meeting’s host, urged countries to help cut the time it takes to produce vaccines, and promised to donate surplus doses to poorer countries – but only once the UK’s own citizens are all vaccinated. (Polling suggests the public is more than three times as likely to support sharing surplus doses as it is to back keeping them “just in case”). Meanwhile, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has urged Europe and the US to send up to 5% of their vaccines to poorer countries now – though the US was quick to demur.
What has changed? Mr Macron warned of an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality. But he was candid enough to also cite the emerging “war of influence”. G7 nations are worried that others are gaining an advantage by providing the doses they have failed to share. China and Russia have supplied more than 800m doses between them to 41 countries.
These countries certainly have their own diplomatic agendas and economic interests to pursue; small donations are bolstered by much larger commercial deals. But they are, at least, supplying what is desperately needed. India too is sending millions of doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – produced at the Serum Institute of India – to Bangladesh and other south Asian countries, with one eye on China’s regional influence.
It is hard to see how countries that have yet to hand over any doses can try to claim the moral high ground in these circumstances, and repugnant to watch geopolitics push them towards action when humanitarian concerns failed to do so. By international standards, the UK has been a generous donor to the Covax pooled purchase scheme, which is due to begin delivery of vaccines from the end of this month. But charities say G7 countries have ordered 1.5bn vaccines more than they need to cover their whole populations, hindering the ability of Covax to buy sufficient supplies. Richer countries have effectively boasted of handing out cash for poorer countries to buy doses – while sweeping all the available goods into their own shopping baskets.
The second spur towards action is the emergence of variants that appear much more transmissible, including those originating in the UK, Brazil and South Africa, and which existing vaccines may not be so effective against. The head of the UK’s genetic surveillance programme has suggested the one first found in Kent – which may carry a higher risk of death – could become the world’s dominant strain. Worryingly, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine may be less protective against the South African variant.
The temptation for wealthier countries is to hoard the different vaccines they have ordered, to ensure that they have the best options to protect their citizens as new variants emerge. This would be a grave mistake. The more transmission occurs, the more variants are likely to emerge – and the more likely it becomes that vaccine-resistant variants will be among them. These will not be confined within national borders, even given current travel restrictions; the South African variant has reached at least 20 countries. The real lesson is that we should be sharing vaccines as a matter of priority – not only for other countries’ sakes, but for our own.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Guardian view on sharing vaccines: protecting others protects us | Coronavirus