The folly of the global war for vaccines

Health and the economy always go hand in hand. Diseases of all kinds generally attack the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of a society, precisely those who, due to their living conditions, are most exposed to being infected, while at the same time lacking the resources to access treatments and medicines.

With the coronavirus pandemic, that reality became even more evident, with a higher level of contagion in shantytowns and in poor neighborhoods. And now that the vaccine appears as the hope of all humanity, the logic that subordinates health to the economy is re-imposed.

According to statistics from the monitor Our World in Data, of the 328 million doses applied until last Thursday, some 295 million – approximately 90 percent of the total – were concentrated in just 18 countries, most of them developed. The ranking is led by the United States (with 96 million doses), China (53 million) and the United Kingdom (24 million).

At the other extreme, to cite one of the poorest territories on the planet, all the countries of the African continent have administered just five million doses. The same amount that the United States applies in a day and a half. The reason is only one: developed countries have the economic resources that the rest lack to acquire the vaccines they need.

And even more: some first world countries acquired many more doses than they need to immunize their entire population.

Not once, but two, three and even four times.

It is true that the World Health Organization (WHO) has been managing the Covax platform, which seeks to distribute part of the vaccines with some equity criterion, basically for the benefit of the poorest nations. But that initiative, by the numbers it handles, is clearly insufficient.

The problem of this enormously unequal distribution is not reduced only to a question of elementary global injustice. There is also a health effect, which will not only affect the poorest nations, also the richest and hoarders of vaccines.

Infectologists around the world have been warning that the Covid-19 virus (like all viruses) generates mutations as it finds fertile ground to do so. And some of the new strains that emerge are becoming resistant to the vaccines already available, forcing new formulas to be developed almost constantly. The strains from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Manaus (in Brazil), more contagious and lethal than the “original” virus, clearly show this phenomenon.

Thus, to the extent that there are huge unimmunized population masses, the possibility of new, more dangerous variants emerging is a real and concrete risk. And on this globalized planet, the fact that a new strain appears in a remote and poor third world country does not guarantee, in any way, that sooner rather than later it will not again wreak havoc in developed nations, even if all its inhabitants are duly vaccinated.

“From this, we are all saved together or no one is saved.” That would be the maxim that should prevail in the global management of this pandemic that has to mistreat all of humanity. And not even by appealing to principles of global solidarity, but to the most elementary common sense in health. The “for himself who can” hoarding vaccines at any cost is a very short-range strategy, which in the medium term does not benefit anyone.

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