NO ONE IS PROTECTED UNTIL WE ARE ALL PROTECTED
By Richard Davis
Americans and others in the wealthiest countries may only have temporary protection against COVID unless there is more of a worldwide effort to vaccinate people in poorer countries. The science tells us that the longer the virus thrives and is able to mutate in countries with low vaccination rates the more the character of the pandemic changes.
The U.S. and other wealthy countries have hoarded millions of doses of vaccine and that has proven to be a very short-sighted way to deal with a pandemic. There are few places on the globe not affected by COVID and that means that we have to accept the fact that control of the virus depends on global cooperation. The needed level of cooperation has been slow to evolve.
Africa has the lowest vaccination rate and there are some countries that have still not launched mass vaccination efforts. According to a New York Times April 25 editorial, “The richest nations account for 16 percent of the global population but hold 53% of all purchased coronavirus doses…The United States is projected to have 300 million extra shots by late July, even after accounting for the supply needed to vaccinate the millions of children who are expected to be eligible by the end of the year.”
The World Health Organization has stepped up to the plate and they are making an effort to provide mechanisms for more vaccine sharing. They are fighting a slow uphill battle that is made even more difficult because pharmaceutical companies have been able to successfully profit from the pandemic at obscene levels while hiding behind patent protection laws. It should not be business as usual for drug manufacturers as the body count increases, but pleas to change the rules have fallen on deaf ears.
Sadly according to the Times, “Nearly 60 nations have petitioned the World Trade Organization (WTO) to allow countries to temporarily override intellectual property rights for coronavirus-related drugs and vaccines, but so far the measure is languishing.” This situation is nothing more than profits being more important than human life.
The WTO effort is aimed at allowing more manufacturers to make generic forms of COVID vaccines but that would mean less profit for the companies currently producing vaccine despite the fact that it would most likely mean faster worldwide vaccine distribution.
According to an April 23, 2021 piece on The Intercept web site by Lee Fang, “Newly filed disclosure forms from the first quarter of 2021 show that over 100 lobbyists have been mobilized to contact lawmakers and members of the Biden administration, urging them to oppose a proposed temporary waiver on intellectual property rights by the World Trade Organization that would allow generic vaccines to be produced globally.”
Making the situation less hopeful is the fact that not enough vaccine doses have been manufactured to meet all of the world’s needs even if there was a way to maximize distribution. The rich and the powerful countries have been able to provide potential protection to a majority of their citizens while the rest of the world struggles.
Don’t expect the pharmaceutical industry to suddenly develop a conscience and de-emphasize the need for profit. They have always been opportunistic vultures and the COVID pandemic has only made that clearer.
If the world does not figure out a way to do a better job at mass vaccination the virus will gain even more of an upper hand than it now has. More and more variants will have time to develop and those variants may have the potential to weaken the ability of vaccines to keep the virus at bay.
As long as there is a lack of global cooperation among countries and drug manufacturers the risk of COVID resurgence will always be with us and no one can predict how that will play out.