VACCINE NATIONALISM

Covid-19: Who should get vaccinated first?

In every country, priority should be given to healthcare workers and those especially vulnerable.

In Summary
  • The truth is that we will not produce vaccine products to cover 7.8 billion people.
  • Some hard but fair and just allocation principles must be applied to determine who gets the vaccination first.
Health workers have been vaccinating people against Ebola to prevent the spread of the virus.
Health workers have been vaccinating people against Ebola to prevent the spread of the virus.
Image: AGENCIES

Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc around the world. Healthcare resources in rich and poor countries alike are reeling under the burden of Covid-19 morbidity and mortality.

There is no cure or vaccine, yet. The global race to produce a coronavirus vaccine has assumed political dimensions that could define a dark chapter in the geopolitical duel between China and the United States of America. For China and the US, the vaccine is not just about protecting the health of their citizens. It’s about putting people back to work and getting their economies humming again.

Moderna Therapeutics, a US biotechnology company is the frontrunner in the global race. Early results show that the Moderna vaccine caused patients to produce antibodies that neutralise the coronavirus, which causes Covid-19. However, the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University has moved fastest and generated an immune response in a study of 1,000 patients.

 

The US has made a whopping $1.2 billion investment to secure 300 million doses of the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, as part of President Donald Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” initiative. Similarly, the United Kingdom has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine.

Make no mistake, the vaccine nationalism is here. The US is opposed to a WHO-backed initiative to ease intellectual property rights and expand vaccine access to all countries. But French President Emmanuel Macron has argued that any vaccine against Covid-19 must be treated as a global public good, without any national rights to pre-orders.

Make no mistake, the vaccine nationalism is here. The US is opposed to a WHO-backed initiative to ease intellectual property rights and expand vaccine access to all countries. But French President Emmanuel Macron has argued that any vaccine against Covid-19 must be treated as a global public good, without any national rights to pre-orders.

The truth is that we will not produce vaccine products to cover 7.8 billion people. Some hard but fair and just allocation principles must be applied to determine who gets the vaccination first.

In every country, priority should be given to healthcare worker: Doctors, nurses and paramedics who are prosecuting the war against the virus. People with pre-existing conditions, persons with disability, pregnant women and the elderly who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus should also have first dibs on the vaccine.

In the US, where race and health outcomes are entwined, the case is being made to make the coronavirus available to African Americans and Latinos, who have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. This as you can imagine, is highly contentious.

As we contemplate reopening institutions of learning, I would argue that students, teachers and professors should also be among the first recipients of the vaccine. Security forces, especially the police and prisons officers as well as public transport operators should also be included among the first groups who receive the vaccine.

That vaccine nationalism is solidifying is both revolting and unsurprising in a hyper-polarised world. It does not help that the WHO is disgracefully diminished, bereft of clout and convening authority. The moral and ethical question we must grapple with is who should get a coronavirus vaccine first when it becomes available.

 

The existential question of who gets the vaccine first must engage the moral imagination of the UN Security Council and the United Nations General Assembly this September.