Last week marked the first anniversary of the declaration by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the Covid 19 virus had become a pandemic. This was a very unhappy anniversary because well over two million persons worldwide have since died.
Added to the direct consequence of death, the virus has dealt fatal or near fatal blows in each country to the economy, employment, education and relationships, and has adversely affected the mental health and emotional stability of millions more.
We have suffered these consequences throughout 2020 and they will continue past 2021, well into 2022. In the future we will also carry the awful burdens of the economic, employment and education deficits as well as the scars of increased mental illness and emotional trauma.
In order to safely take lasting steps forward out of this worldwide disaster, it is estimated that 60 or 70 per cent of each country’s population will have to be vaccinated against the virus. Unfortunately for us, our government was short-sighted about global vaccine production and politics.
This short sightedness has left us behind some of our regional counterparts in initial vaccine acquisition, while it was being vaingloriously suggested that there was an imminent well-ordered vaccine rollout.
The government has stumbled into making us a pawn in the game of ‘vaccine nationalism’. We are now relying on China to help us out, but the Chinese vaccine, Sinopharm, has not yet received WHO approval.
Let’s hope that the approval is forthcoming soon and that, very importantly, such approval brings with it recognition of the Chinese vaccine in the US, Canada and Europe. Presumably the government understands that without such recognition of Chinese-manufactured vaccines, we may be curtailed from travelling to those areas.
Because our leaders have tried to avoid levelling with us, it may be useful to summarise the hindrances in the way of small countries rapidly vaccinating the majority of their populations.
Only a handful of countries are capable of the manufacture of the vaccines and their distribution is controlled by the handful of proprietors of the vaccines—of whose names we have become very aware: Pfizer, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Smith Johnson.
In obtaining access to vaccines in sufficient numbers to administer to the requisite majority of their respective populations, the so-called less developed countries are also at the mercy of countries reputedly well-developed but sometimes beset with racist officials.
There are international arrangements like Covax, intended to assist the disadvantaged countries, but we have already seen that the vaccines available by that route arrive in limited numbers. It is debatable what inroads those arrangements can effectively make into the advantage of the rich and powerful nations.
Just as in Trinidad and Tobago, regional and domestic politics are also playing a negative role in the alignment of vaccines to needs elsewhere.
For example, the New York Times of Wednesday last asserted that the suspension of the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in several countries of Europe ‘may be driven as much by politics as science’.
In the United Kingdom, the tabloid media has suggested that Europe, vexed about Brexit, was attacking the AstraZeneca vaccine because it was developed by Oxford University.
The suspension of its use has just been lifted, but the AstraZeneca vaccine issue is significant since that is the brand available to us through the Covax facility—although only in small, sporadic amounts. That is why our minister of health is antsy when accounting for our vaccine rollout, and why the government has disclosed that it is talking to China to help us out with the Sinopharm brand.
Interestingly, the official English language newspaper of China, the China Global Times, on Tuesday last, reported that Serbia had made a deal to produce Sinopharm in a ‘vaccine factory’ to be constructed there. Chinese sources are quoted there as saying that ‘aside from purchasing Chinese vaccines directly, Europe could allow the West’s major pharmaceutical companies such as Sanofi to apply for authorisation of Sinopharm or Sinovac to produce Chinese vaccines’.
Perhaps the unhappiness of the second Covid 19 anniversary will be relieved by a Happy Chinese New Year—due 1 February 2022—coming early for us.