Green Left was among the first voices to point out that global solidarity was needed to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic: any attempt at a one-country solution would ultimately be futile.
The richest countries may have had the means to lock out the rest of the world for a while and monopolise vaccine production and distribution. But, in the end, this could not work forever.
Global vaccine apartheid has created a situation in which citizens of the world’s richest countries are nearly all vaccinated (and now receiving booster shots), while half of the world’s population have yet to receive at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. This means 3.4 billion people remain completely unvaccinated.
The New York Times reported on November 30: “Less wealthy countries are relying on a vaccine-sharing arrangement called Covax, which originally aimed to provide two billion doses by the end of the year but has repeatedly cut its forecasts because of production problems, export bans and vaccine hoarding by wealthy nations.
“In its latest projection, it expected to have a total of 1.4 billion doses available by the end of 2021.”
We are now seeing blowback from global vaccine apartheid in the form of a new COVID-19 variant — called B.1.1.529 or Omicron — and once again, the world’s richest countries are responding by shutting their doors to poorer nations.
British-based organisation Global Justice Now pointed out in a November 26 statement that the B.1.1.529 mutation was an “entirely avoidable” consequence of policy decisions by rich countries, which have hoarded vaccine doses and refused to force pharmaceutical giants to share technology with developing nations.
“There have been countless warnings that super-variants could emerge if we do not remove artificial barriers to global vaccination," said Global Justice Now.
In March this year, a survey of 77 epidemiologists from 28 countries, carried out by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, found two-thirds thought the world had a year or less before the virus mutated to the extent that the majority of first-generation vaccines are rendered ineffective and new or modified vaccines are required.
They may have been too optimistic.
As GL previously argued, rich countries should use all their resources to produce and distribute free vaccines for the world’s population, by establishing public not-for-profit vaccine manufacturers.
They should outlaw the unconscionable profiteering of big pharmaceutical companies, which have raked in huge profits and created at least nine new billionaires in the process.
Global solidarity is also required to deal with other pressing problems such as climate change, global poverty, war and the refugee crisis.
But conservative governments keep telling us we must look after ourselves and not think of the rest, bombarding us with slogans like “America First”, “Australia First”, etc. This narrow, nationalistic outlook needs to be sent into the dustbin of history.