EEven if you think humans are nothing more than a selfish tribal species that cares little for anyone beyond our clans and ourselves, the failure to vaccinate the world is still astonishing. It is not just a moral affront that rich nations allow millions of people to needlessly die, but an attack on our own interests.
The International Monetary Fund estimates that the global economy is at risk of losing $ 4.5 billion (£ 3.3 billion) by 2025 if Covid-19 spreads unchecked. Gordon Brown, the World Health Organization’s new ambassador for global health financing, tells me the cost of providing enough vaccine to immunize all poor nations is around £ 70 billion.
In countries with rudimentary health services, the usual problems with childbirth remain, but no one doubts that billions of dollars could be unlocked by spending a comparatively insignificant sum. Yet the rich world will not spend. It will also not act to override the low risk of the virus mutating into a variant that may escape vaccines.
The Covid has torn our lives apart and haunted our dreams. If you live in the UK or the US, you’re in luck if you don’t know someone who has died from the virus. However, faced with a peril recognized by all and the consequences of which are devastating, the world cannot act.
If the response to the pandemic is any guide, the big promises governments make to prevent climate catastrophe will have little effect. If they cannot take seriously an immediate danger that is staring them in the face, how will they manage to take lasting and costly countermeasures against climate change that require sacrifices and commitments over decades?
When I asked Brown to explain the failure, he replied with admirable brevity: “Nationalism and stupidity.
Nationalism is cradled by so-called progressives. Last week, Joe Biden hosted a Covid summit where he announced he would donate an additional 500 million vaccines to middle and low income countries. He looked awesome. But President Emmanuel Macron did so in 2020 when he declared that we should not tolerate “a two-speed world where only the richest can protect themselves”. All the leaders in the West have said much the same thing. Despite their good feelings, less than 2% of the population in low-income countries received even one dose.
Everyone suspects that rich countries are paying for privileged deals with vaccine manufacturers. Officials from the WHO-led Gavi alliance, which tries to buy vaccines for poor countries, tell me manufacturers won’t say where their orders are in the queue or whether they would consider upgrading. give them priority.
Despite all the cooing and kind words, the promises of Biden and his counterparts cannot be believed. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said last week, the triumph of science in vaccine production has been dashed by “lack of political will, selfishness and mistrust”.
What he called the “obscenity” of the rich world’s indifference falls into two parts. First, the promised vaccine deliveries to the poor world never arrived. Oxford University data analysts found the UK delivered less than 7% of the vaccines it had promised to developing countries. In total, of the 554 million doses promised by the richest nations, only 90.8 million, or 16%, had reached their destination. Those who did have trickled in, making it impossible to plan vaccination campaigns.
Arguments as to whether it is fair for rich countries to embark on medically questionable initiatives to immunize adolescents or give booster shots to vulnerable people are almost irrelevant. By February 2022, 15 billion doses will have been produced: more than enough to immunize the world. Governments, however, have allowed neurotic nationalism to turn them into stingers who hoard more vaccines than they might need.
The second obscenity lies in the fate of their hidden treasure. Airfinity, a scientific analysis company, estimates that by the end of 2021, G7 countries could throw away 241 million vaccines that are past their expiration dates. Brown describes their destruction as “unacceptable” and says he will send the projections to Biden, Johnson and EU leaders.
It is a cliché of Western responses to see the poor world as filled with corrupt and failing states. Imagine what African and Asian press teams could now say about us. Film crews could film crushed vaccines in landfills, as reporters intoned that while it was hard to admit, the truth was that childish and irresponsible Westerners were so prone to waste that they couldn’t. not trust them to govern themselves.
Rational self-interest is the best form of selfishness and it is clearly absent today. More common is a soured parochial, who starts off not wanting to think about the rest of mankind and ends up hating them. God knows, but I had my disagreements with Brown when he was in government. But there is no greater sign of the triumph of stupid nationalism than the replacement of Brown and the politicians who could provoke a crisis with post-Brexit cartoons of babbling, comedy. They took power saying that foreigners were trying to swindle honest Brits and can no longer be generous to the rest of the world.
Knowing that we will not be safe until everyone is safe has sparked a determination among the worst nationalists not to be driven by science or bow to multinational institutions. The spirit of ignorance that drove the Trump and Brexit movements has survived the pandemic. The Trump administration has withdrawn from the World Health Organization. The Johnson government slashed the foreign aid budget in the midst of an emergency when poor countries needed aid most and the UK needed the epidemiological protection and economic recovery that a global effort to contain Covid.
He did it safely, knowing the majority of the public wouldn’t care. Since the start of the pandemic, news reports have repeated the number of Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths. When regulators approved the vaccines, the number of those who received one and then two vaccines was added. But at no point do we hear how many vaccines are going to countries that cannot afford them. Until that changes, there will be no hope of tackling Covid, let alone the catastrophic climate crisis that is rushing towards us like an unstoppable storm.