John Dolan: I’d gladly pay for my vaccine, if cash went on giving jabs to poorer nations

Is there something we could do on a personal and national level to address vaccine access iniquity, asks John Dolan in his weekly column
John Dolan: I’d gladly pay for my vaccine, if cash went on giving jabs to poorer nations

PANDEMIC CRISIS: A health worker screens a child for symptoms of Covid-19 in Dharavi, one of Asia’s biggest slums, in Mumbai, India.

AS arguments go, it was a convincing one. Indeed, trying to rebut it would leave you wide open to hysterical accusations on social media of condoning mass genocide of the poorest people on the planet.

The argument came courtesy of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), when he attacked the global response to the acquisition of vaccines for Covid-19.

The richest nations, he said, were hoarding stocks for some of the wealthiest peoples on the planet, while the poorest peoples went without.

This, “me-first” approach, said Tedros, was a “catastrophic moral failure”, a hideous inequality, “and the price of this will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries”.

Well, you should have seen the tumbleweed blowing across the plains of Europe, and across the U.S and Canada, when he dropped that bombshell. The liberal elites, for whom no day is complete without a lecture to the world on equality and fairness, were particularly and unusually silent.

For a brief few moments, the capitalist vaccine manufacturers and western heads of state stopped their squabbling and bickering over the precious cargoes, turned to face Tedros, realised nothing they said could contradict or dispute his words, and resumed their squabbling and bickering.

But what of the rest of us, ordinary people like you and I? Do we feel uncomfortable about this truism? Well, yes, I’m sure we do.

The fact that, as Tedros spoke, more than 39 million vaccine doses had been given in 49 richer states, but one poor nation had been sent only 25 (yes that’s twenty-five), made us all shuffle uneasily in our cosy armchairs.

If the world really was as fair and equitable as we would like, the west would stand aside while the vaccines were sent to the most vulnerable people on the planet — rather than the most vulnerable people in our own countries.

But life is sometimes not fair, and this is one of those instances. National governments, as well as the EU, have obligations to the people they represent and who vote for them.

It’s human nature to want to see your elderly and ailing parents vaccinated as a priority, rather than someone else’s elderly and ailing parents in a foreign and poverty-stricken land.

And it’s human nature to want to see life return to normal here in Ireland, to see shops, restaurants and pubs reopen, and to be able to go abroad on holiday — even though people in poor nations could never dream of a holiday.

There, I said it. Call me a realist, call me a pragmatist. Heck, head to social media and accuse me of condoning mass genocide if it makes you feel better.

But the truth is, we want that vaccine for our own, for the Irish, as discomfiting as that statement sounds to liberal ears.

It’s the same in other rich countries, Indeed, Canada ordered enough vaccine doses to protect each Canadian five times! Talk about the survival of the fittest.

Little wonder the WHO calls this hogging “vaccine nationalism”. And little wonder world leaders couldn’t conjure up a response to the accusing words of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus... He had them bang to rights.

Now, to give the WHO credit, they are planning a global vaccine-sharing scheme, called Covax, which is due to start rolling out next month. This aims to tackle the iniquity in vaccine deliveries, with the ambition of securing enough this year for the most vulnerable 20% in every country, rich or poor.

The Covax plan has the support of more than 180 countries, a number that was bolstered this week by new U.S President Joe Biden’s decision to rejoin the WHO and fund the programme.

The vaccination companies are chipping in, vowing to produce some products for poor nations on a not-for-profit basis.

The lofty aim is for vaccines to be administered in every country by April 7 — World Health Day.

Of course, for many wealthy nations, there is even self-interest at play here. When their economies start to purr again, they want to be able to sell their goods all over the world, and will want poorer nations to be Covid-free so they can open up to buy them.

However, is this enough to assuage our western guilt? Or is there something we could do on a personal and national level to address this iniquity, to salve our consciences in return for for our “vaccine nationalism”?

I think there is.

At present, the Covid-19 vaccine in Ireland, and in most western countries, is being given for free. The governments are happy to pay the bill, and are probably worried that any fee would impact on their take-up.

It’s important we have at least 70% of our population inoculated for herd immunity to kick in, and even asking for a fiver or a tenner per injection may deter thousands of people.

But what if there was a voluntary contribution for the vaccine? What if those who could afford it could pay into a scheme that would also help to vaccinate the poorer peoples?

This could involve donating to the Covax fund, or setting up a separate fund, one that takes in donations from volunteers across not just Ireland, but the west.

Perhaps a major charity such as Oxfam, Concern Worldwide or GOAL could take up such a scheme on our behalf and administer it in the right places?

After all, the HSE and health workers and politicians have enough on their plate getting the vaccine into our arms.

Such a scheme would allow those of us who are grateful to be getting a vaccine to do our bit to alleviate the inherent unfairness in its roll-out, and would undoubtedly save the lives of some of the most unfortunate people on the planet.

Injecting a bit of humanity, if you will.

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