“Vaccine Apartheid” is a phrase that feels filthy to even say out loud. And it feels bad for a reason… because we know that’s what we’re doing. It’s happening right now. We’re drawing a very clear line by saying that certain people are entitled to Covid-19 vaccinations, and others aren’t.
Note: This article reflects the opinion of the writer and not necessarily that of The Essential Millennial
Depending on where you live and your level of income, you may simply not have access to the Covid-19 vaccine. However, if you’re living in the world’s wealthiest nations – the same nations that served as petri dishes for the disease a year ago and whose inaction created the global pandemic we’re now living in – you’re likely to have been vaccinated already and, if not, you will be in the next few months (unless you’re idiotic enough to refuse it).
In India, the worst place to be in the world right now, experts are saying that, while official figures have reported the country’s Covid-19 infections to be just below 20 million, that figure is probably closer to half a billion, according to experts. As of Friday, just 2% of India’s entire population (and only 37% of health and frontline workers) had been vaccinated, while the CDC has already released new guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans, allowing them to attend outdoor events without the need to wear masks.
“The world is in a race to reach herd immunity to get this disease under control, save millions of lives and get our economy going again. This is a race we have to win before new mutations render our existing vaccines obsolete,” says Oxfam‘s health policy manager, Anna Marriott.
“Yet the pursuit of profits and monopolies means we are losing that race… . We urgently need to lift the veil of corporate secrecy and instead have open-source vaccines, mass produced by as many vaccine players as possible, including crucially those in developing countries.”
Vaccine manufacturers Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have paid out $26 billion in dividends and stock buybacks to their shareholders in the past 12 months, according to the Peoples Vaccine Alliance Asia.
This would be enough to pay to vaccinate at least 1.3 billion people — the equivalent of the population of Africa.
Just 10 countries account for approximately 75% of the Covid-19 vaccines administered worldwide, according to Global Justice Now. Around 130 countries — accounting for about 2.5 billion people — are yet to administer a single dose.
And then you get this guy, who has exactly zero medical degrees, has no experience whatsoever in public healthcare ,and, yet, carries an enormous amount of influence… because he’s really, really, really wealthy.
Bill Gates, who’s frequently held the ever-changing title of being the world’s richest man, who has never lived in a place like India or Brazil or South Africa, who made his fortune through his own patented intellectual property rights and frames the challenge that Covid-19 presents from that perspective, thinks that temporarily waiving intellectual property rights in order to ramp up production all over the world and prioritising lives over profits is a bad idea…
Bill will have you believe that the solution to vaccinating everyone on earth and eradicating Covid-19 is to put it in the hands of massive pharmaceutical companies, who will drive up production and “excess” vaccines will be distributed to the Global South. Once everyone in the US is vaccinated (which isn’t going to happen, because there is a fairly large fraction of the population that are anti-vaxxers and will refuse a jab) , they will turn their attention to places like South Africa and Brazil…
“Well, there’s only so many vaccine factories in the world, and people are very serious about the safety of vaccines. And so moving something that had never been done — moving a vaccine from, say, a [Johnson & Johnson] factory into a factory in India — it’s novel. It’s only because of our grants and our expertise that can happen at all. The thing that’s holding things back in this case is not intellectual property. There’s not like some idle vaccine factory, with regulatory approval, that makes magically safe vaccines. You know, you’ve got to do the trials on these things, and every manufacturing process has to be looked at in a very careful way.”
He predicts this mechanism of what one can only describe as “trickle-down inoculations” will start to manifest in about three months. Meanwhile, Oxfam reports that two-thirds of epidemiologists believe mutations could render current COVID vaccines ineffective in a year or less. So we’re in a race against time and the rest of the world needs to wait until pharmaceutical giants are satisfied with their efforts in the First World… and we should blindly trust those same giants to be ethically responsible and act in good faith. Because, if there’s one thing Big Pharma is known for, it’s their strict commitment to ethical practices and prioritising lives over profits…
As reported by The Guardian, plenty of manufacturing capacity currently stands ready to produce vaccines if given the necessary authorization. A single, relatively small Canadian company, Biolyse, says it’s capable of producing twenty million vaccine doses for people in the Global South but has been rebuffed by both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
“We’ve been passed over. We’ve got this production capacity and it’s not being put to use. If we had started this last year, we could have shipped millions of doses by now, says John Fulton, the vice-president of Biolyse. “This is supposed to be like a wartime effort, everyone in it together. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
In early April, the WHO’s Covax initiative had delivered just 38 million doses of the vaccine to over 100 countries in the Global South.
The divide is stark. It’s genuine segregation. This means that people are set to be afforded certain rights and privileges due to their vaccination status. This is Apartheid by definition.
“Gates, who incidentally owes much of his own fortune to monopolistic intellectual property laws, has been more than a passive actor in the pandemic — having, among other things, convinced Oxford University to renege on its original promise of a no-patent vaccine and partner with the profit-driven AstraZeneca instead,” write Jacobin‘s Luke Savage.
“Arguably more than any other single figure, the billionaire has mobilized his immense personal wealth and power to ensure that the interests of for-profit drug companies prevail over global public health.”
But more than Vaccine Apartheid, this is just stupid. If the virus can mutate into something beyond what existing vaccines will be able to immunize us in a year and it’ll take two years to achieve widespread vaccination in the 85 poorest countries, all of the efforts become meaningless. And Covid-19, or future iterations of it, will just never go away.
And here’s the really crazy part: Economists have calculated that the cost to the G7 nations of making vaccines universally available would not only be a minute fraction of the trillions already earmarked for post-Covid economic recovery, but would result in net gains of some $466bn to G7 economies over the next four or five years. So, in effect, it would be cheaper to just vaccinate everyone and get it over with. Alternatively, we’ll fall into a never-ending cycle of pandemics upon pandemics ad infinitum
The virus is blind to politics, class, race and geography. And that’s a lesson that needs to be learned and it needs to be learned fast. For everyone’s sake – we’re all in this together. And, if we don’t put an end to Vaccine Apartheid, we’re opening the door to Covid, inviting it to become a permanent fixture in our lives. And the way that we live in this pandemic-stricken world will become the status quo.