Health

Fairer, healthier world needs no vaccine nationalism


 

   BEIJING, April 7  -- World Health Day 2021 is being commemorated globally on Wednesday, under the theme of building a fairer, healthier world.
    In contrast to its previous themes, which typically focused on some specific types of disease or health threats like diabetes and food safety, this year the World Health Organization (WHO) chose a more general and abstract theme for the yearly event.
   It's not that the WHO has run out of choices of disease types, or the world was free from specific health threats; it is just the still-ravaging pandemic has attested to the fact that unfairness and inequality, especially in addressing such global challenges as COVID-19, are actually more lethal than any specific disease.

   WORSENING SITUATION
   The pandemic that poses equal threats to all is another litmus test for the unfairness and inequality in human society.
   As some developed countries have been rapidly rolling out their vaccination programs, making progress in clinching a full recovery, people in many other countries are suffering from the latest resurgence of COVID-19 infections.
   In Argentina, Health Minister Carla Vizzotti warned that a second wave of COVID-19 infections "is already a fact" in the country. While in its neighboring Brazil, the national count of COVID-19 cases has just crossed the grime milestone of 13 million.
   Hospitals are being overrun by patients; intensive care units in some worst-affected cities are more than 90 percent full. The same plight prevails in other countries like Turkey, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.
   Worldwide COVID-19 deaths are also rising once again, hurdling towards a new threshold of 3 million, with some countries and cities like Brazil, Bangladesh, and India's Mumbai having just recorded their highest number of daily deaths.
   According to a tally from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, it took more than one year for the global COVID-19 death toll to reach 2 million, but the next 1 million deaths would be added in just about three months.

   FALSE DAWN
   As most people thought that they have finally got to see the light at the end of the tunnel as the COVID-19 vaccines have been rolling out, inequality and unfairness in vaccine distribution are waking those in poor countries up to the cold truth that it is just a false dawn amid the gloom.
   "COVID-19 has exacerbated inequalities both between and within countries," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press briefing on Tuesday. "It's a travesty that in some countries health workers and those at-risk groups remain completely unvaccinated."
   While some developed countries have hoarded vaccines far in excess of their needs, many people in developing countries are waiting in desperation for their first doses.
   In Kenya's capital Nairobi, people have to wait in long queues and jostle for jabs, with some elderly people reportedly getting up as early as 6 a.m. to get inoculated, only to return home to try their luck again the next day.
   The latest data from the Duke Global Health Innovation Center Launch and Scale Speedometer, which monitors COVID-19 vaccine purchases, finds that high-income countries already own more than half of all global doses purchased, and it is estimated that there will not be enough vaccine doses to cover the world's population until 2023.
   "Many high-income countries have hedged their bets by advance purchasing enough doses to vaccinate their population several times over," it said in a study.
   None of the middle- and lower-middle income countries have enough to vaccinate their entire populations. At the same time, Canada has purchased enough to vaccinate its population five times over, said the study.
   "We are fighting a very primitive organism, something between alive and dead, very organized, functioning as one, so I think we need to function as one on a global level," said Jelena Begovic, director of the Institute of Molecular Genetics and Genetic Engineering of University of Belgrade.
   "Unfortunately, I am not seeing this, particularly in events concerning vaccination," she noted.

   MORAL FAILURE
   The "inequitable" vaccine distribution was a "catastrophic moral failure" and a "failed opportunity," Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO Health Emergencies Program, said in March.
   Actually, many of those developed countries have once made announcements calling for equality and fairness in the global fight against the pandemic.
   However, it is easier to make the pledge to ensure equal access of all countries, rich or poor, big or small, to the COVID-19 vaccines than put it into practice, especially when the vaccines are in short supply.
   "Solidarity is only expressed in media declarations. In the talks behind the closed doors, there is not any," Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told journalists, criticizing some countries' monopoly on vaccine distribution.
   According to Leon Laulusa, executive vice president of Paris-based ESCP Business School, at least 75 percent of the world's population must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, or nearly 6 billion people, which would take at least 12 billion doses for a double injection.
   To achieve the final victory in this global fight, all countries need to take real actions to ensure fairness and equality, rather than just make empty talks and hollow promises. After all, in such a closely linked world, no one would keep safe until everyone is safe.
   In this sense, China has taken more than its due responsibility. According to the latest data, China has been providing vaccine aid to 80 countries and three international organizations, exporting vaccines to more than 40 countries, and cooperating with more than 10 nations in vaccine research, development and production.
   As noted by some analysts, unfairness and inequality revealed in the process of vaccine distribution are just another embodiment of the social gaps and discrimination that have long been existing in some Western countries.
   And by the same token, to win the global anti-pandemic fight, and build "a fairer, healthier world," those countries need to do more.  Xinhua