Experts sound alarm of global consequences over vaccine inequality 

August 2, 2021 - 16:58

The reluctance of rich countries to distribute their excess coronavirus vaccines to poorer nations has prompted warnings from global financial and health organizations of the dangers that lie ahead. 

The World Trade Organization is among the latest to issue a warning that global disparities in Covid vaccine rates will have an international impact on economic recovery from the pandemic. WTO Chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says “Failure to ensure global access to vaccines poses a serious threat to the global economy and to public health.” 

Okonjo-Iweala also says that “trade performance is diverging significantly across regions, with unequal access to COVID-19 vaccines a major factor in the disparities.”

She added, “this is especially true for low-income countries, where barely over 1 percent of their populations has received even one dose.”

A similar message has been echoed by the International Monetary Fund, which warned, “vaccine access has emerged as the principal fault line along which the global recovery splits into two blocs.”

That’s a dangerous message from the IMF. Global recovery will not be sustainable across the board! 

IMF Critics would say the institution will be pleased with the idea. The Washington-based organization will be standing by the telephone eagerly waiting for requests to send out massive bailout loans. 

Of course, history shows governments struggle to repay the loans, then impose austerity measures and make matters much worse for their populations. 

===== Prime example: Greece and the disaster that followed  

As some wealthy western countries consider vaccinating their population several times others, the more vulnerable, mostly in Africa, are left to die. 

In mid-July this year, the World Health Organization said Africa recorded a 43% jump in COVID-19 deaths as infections and hospital admissions have risen. This is while countries in the continent face shortages of oxygen and intensive-care beds. 

In the entire African continent, less than one percent of the population has been fully vaccinated. 

And the west, which colonized Africa for decades, stole its treasures and as many observers say, prevented the continent from developing for decades also; has a moral duty to assist Africans.  

Nevertheless, while poorer countries wait until G7 pledges of assistance come to the rescue, which by many accounts will not even materialize; governments need to reflect elsewhere. 

This major challenge facing the world today can be resolved in two ways. 

The first is countries start producing their own vaccines, instead of relying on outside help. 

Under sanctions and economic siege; Cuba and the Islamic Republic of Iran have managed to manufacture a number of different covid-19 vaccines. Here, analysts note the main problem is too many countries are too dependent on the West for scientific research. 

China and Russia have done well to supply other nations with their own vaccines but even their own production line, like elsewhere, has a limit. And both of these superpowers have a large population themselves who need shots. 

The second option is that richer countries who have manufactured vaccines and inoculated their populations send experts to poorer nations and advise them on how to manufacture the substance that produces antibodies.

But this is where greed comes into play.

The big pharmaceutical companies, topping the list, America’s Pfizer is making so much profit from its vaccines that it won’t spill the beans to places like Africa, even on humanitarian grounds. That's out of the question. In late July, Pfizer raised its 2021 sales forecast for its Covid vaccine by 29% to the tune of $33.5 billion. 

That forecast is expected to be even higher as it only accounts for 2.1 billion doses that Pfizer has committed to countries out of 3 billion it plans to manufacture this year.

The company says it strongly suggests people get a third booster dose; something that has drawn criticism from health regulators, who say there isn’t enough evidence yet to show booster shots are needed. This is while billions are waiting for a first shot. 

Nevertheless, whether evidence is later found, by health regulators not pharmaceutical companies, that a third shot is need is; Pfizer is strongly pushing the case now because, at the end of the day, it just adds to the company and its shareholders’ profit. 

So, the question is, do these pharmaceutical companies even want the pandemic to end? 

If so, the quicker method would be to open factories in the poorer country that don’t have access to water let alone vaccines. Send experts to those countries and let the experts work on developing a supply line. Western pharmaceutical companies backed by their governments refuse to do this saying; they have spent a lot of resources, money and effort to manufacture their own vaccines. 

This is not a race to the moon or a secret recipe for the best pizza in the world competition. This is a much-needed global humanitarian mission.
It all strongly backs up the argument that profit is being put ahead of human lives. 

But the same companies and the governments where they operate are taking a risky gamble. 

This could backfire in a devastating way as experts have been warning; if the majority of the global population is not inoculated, more dangerous and much faster transmissible variants of the virus will emerge that not even Pfizer can handle. These will rip through the economies of wealthier nations’ once again; just as they are starting the road to economic recovery. 

At the same time, the world will face a much longer time with respiratory disease than had been anticipated. According to studies, since January this year, more people have died of the virus than in the whole of last year. Because of vaccine inequality and new rising variants, the WHO says the Pandemic is not just far from over, but at a critical stage where everyone, around the world, is under threat. 

Some countries are going through third, fourth waves despite experts saying there has always been only one wave with just stronger and weaker tides. One thing is for certain, the latest Delta variant is seeing global deaths, cases and transmission rates at alarming levels. 

To date, around 4 million 400 thousand people are reported to have died from the disease worldwide. This is while the number of people globally reported to have been infected by a pandemic is inching closer to 200 million. 

The UK (which recently celebrated the lifting of all coronavirus restrictions in England dubbed “Freedom Day”) the British government’s own scientific advisory group believes it is “almost certain” that a new covid variant will emerge “that leads to current vaccine failure”. 

While this early research is theoretical and does not provide any evidence that such a variant is in circulation. It does send out a strong message that even richer nations, which think they are now safe and in heaven actually need to keep on their toes. More so the news has dampened the mood of celebration in the United Kingdom, with not much difference in activity pre and post “Freedom Day”.

Meanwhile, the U.S. state of Florida has broken a record for the highest one-day number of cases since the Pandemic began. This has been blamed on the delta variant. 

So, by the same margin, even the richer countries, who believe they are safe by going it alone; actually, they are not. 

The more reliable option would be for governments to put their thinking hats on before it’s too late and entire communities get wiped out, and start their own scientific research. No matter how long it takes, better late than never to achieve mass vaccination. 

And it needs a genuine global effort to tackle a global problem of such magnitude.
 

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