The amount of money being spent developing a COVID-19 vaccine is astounding. (The amount being spent on ensuring people will actually get such a vaccine, not so much – but that’s a different story.)
Beyond vaccine hesitancy, one potentially major issue with vaccination is inequity. Rich countries have greater ability to produce and/or buy vaccine. We’ve already seen how nationalism can impact COVID-19 control, such as US efforts to restrict companies from selling critically important personal protective equipment abroad. That may play well to a certain political base, but it’s globally unethical.
The message that really needs to be pounded into some peoples’ heads is control of a pandemic requires control of the whole pandemic, everywhere. Controlling it in one country is great, but it’s only effective if you are willing and able to completely isolate your country from the rest of the world. That’s simply not practical in the modern era. So, if we really want to get this pandemic under control, we need to think and act globally.
Vaccine nationalism is a barrier to that. Countries buying up hoards of vaccine, cornering the market on vaccine production capacity, and not thinking about the global needs will cause problems. It’s obvious why some countries do it – we all want to take care of ourselves and our own. However, we need to think and act globally to protect locally.
I remember talking to a colleague in the medical field a few years ago. She was just back from working on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Someone asked why she’d go there, putting in substantial time and risk, when she has a lot of important infectious disease issues here to handle. Her response was (and I’m probably paraphrasing poorly) “to me, the best way to prevent problems with Ebola in Canada is to help control it in Africa.” It’s not a direct analogy to the current situation with COVID-19, as we still need to work on local control efforts here too of course, but we need to remember that there’s a whole world outside our borders, and viruses don’t care about geopolitical boundries.
That’s my long winded introduction into the Joint CCGHR-CSIH statement and call to action: Defeating COVID-19 calls for global solidarity, not a vaccine power play. This topic is well outside of my traditional area, but it’s very important, and I’m one of a big and broad list of signatories on this document.
The statement is a call for Canada to:
(a) increase its COVAX contributions commensurate to its advance purchase agreements;
(b) lobby other countries entering into such agreements to do the same; and
(c) urge all WHO member states to join the COVAX initiative.
It’s short and worth a read.