Showing posts with label Covid. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Covid. Show all posts

Friday, December 3, 2021

Vaccine apartheid is prolonging COVID – not vaccine hesitancy

There’s a colonial tendency to portray people in Africa as anti-science and averse to progress, when the real problem is Big Pharma’s monopoly


By Alena Ivanova

Next week will mark the first anniversary of the NHS administering the first COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials in a hospital in Coventry. Almost a year on from 8 December 2020, the Omicron variant threatens to ruin yet another holiday season and raises questions about the UK government’s approach.

But we already knew of the dangers of vaccine inequality. While the UK this morning announced it had ordered an additional 114 million COVID vaccine doses – despite around 85% of its adult population being fully vaccinated – just 6% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people have received two doses. And hastily reimposed travel bans on people from the African continent reveal more than the refusal of governments in the Global North to deal with the crisis at hand. The racist scapegoating of Black people has a history as old as public health itself.

There is no conclusive evidence that the new travel ban imposed by the UK on six countries in southern Africa will be effective. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence to show that the new variant was circulating in Europe much before Omicron was identified in South Africa, thanks to the scientific rigour and openness of South African researchers. Arbitrary travel bans can affect scientific cooperation and knowledge-sharing, as Tulio de Oliveira, director of South Africa’s Centre for Epidemic Response & Innovation, has warned. He tweeted that travel restrictions mean laboratories don’t get essential supplies.

But politicians and CEOs in the Global North have been busy excusing their dreadful track record on cooperation with low- and middle-income countries, blaming the low vaccination levels in southern Africa on hesitancy. Soundbites such as Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla’s claim that vaccine hesitancy in low-income countries is “way, way higher than the percentage of hesitancy in Europe or in the US or Japan”, have angered many, who have accused them of being tropes grounded in racism – akin to those used during the HIV crisis. In reality, research has suggested a higher willingness to take COVID vaccines in lower- and middle-income countries. But portraying people in Africa as anti-science and averse to progress has long been the coloniser’s excuse to dominate and subjugate and we should not be surprised that it keeps rearing its ugly head. What’s worrying is the speed with which such excuses are adopted by the UK government, while being left unchallenged by the media.

Britain’s Africa minister, Vicky Ford, has repeatedly evaded the issue of vaccine supplies to low- and middle-income countries, focussing instead on their vaccine hesitancy when questioned in Parliament. But research shows no basis for such claims. Africa’s problem is not hesitancy but the fact that many of its healthcare systems are ravaged by privatisation, often imposed by countries such as the UK. Is it any wonder that most African countries are unable to respond quickly and efficiently to the uncertain supply of donated vaccines that arrive with little warning?

Even the so-called ‘level-playing field’ of the market doesn’t seem to deliver for African countries. Earlier this year, Botswana ordered 500,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine at a higher price than was paid by some richer countries. Delivery was expected in August, but as Zain Rizvi, a drug policy expert at US think tank Public Citizen, has noted, none had appeared by October.

What’s more, vaccine hesitancy exists everywhere. The early stages of the vaccination programme in Europe were marred by controversy around the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, with several countries suspending the inoculation drive or switching vaccines by age group. Even now, enclaves of vaccine hesitancy and mistrust remain across the continent, yet nobody seems to deny European countries the right to an adequate supply of doses.

So where do we really stand on vaccine inequality? COVAX, the global mechanism that was supposed to facilitate equal sharing of doses through a centralised donation and purchasing scheme, has failed. Its original goal of distributing two billion doses across the world during 2021 won’t be met. Instead, COVAX now has a revised goal of distributing 1.45 billion doses by the end of the year. But at the time of writing, only 589 million doses had been shipped; shockingly half a million of those were delivered to the UK.

Pharmaceutical companies tell us that supply is not the problem. Yet, with rich countries guzzling the existing doses and refusing to share equally, the only just solution is to expand supply. But a waiver on intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests – a proposal to increase production that is supported by much of the world –is being blocked by the same countries that have hoarded doses and protected the financial interests of big pharma.

This article originally appeared at opendemocracy.net on and originally published on December 2, 2021.  This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. 

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Monday, January 4, 2021

Amid Warnings of Surging Worldwide Poverty, Planet's 500 Richest People Added $1.8 Trillion to Combined Wealth in 2020

Tesla CEO Elon Musk saw the greatest increase in personal wealth in 2020—reported to be the fastest wealth creation in history, according to Bloomberg.(Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Bloomberg's year-end report on the wealth of the world's billionaires shows that the richest 500 people on the planet added $1.8 trillion to their combined wealth in 2020, accumulating a total net worth of $7.6 trillion. 

The Bloomberg Billionaires Index recorded its largest annual gain in the list's history last year, with a 31% increase in the wealth of the richest people.

The historic hoarding of wealth came as the world confronted the coronavirus pandemic and its corresponding economic crisis, which the United Nations last month warned is a "tipping point" set to send more than 207 million additional people into extreme poverty in the next decade—bringing the number of people living in extreme poverty to one billion by 2030. 

Even in the richest country in the world, the United States, the rapidly widening gap between the richest and poorest people grew especially stark in 2020.

As Dan Price, an entrepreneur and advocate for fair wages, tweeted, the 500 richest people in the world amassed as much wealth in 2020 as "the poorest 165 million Americans have earned in their entire lives."

Nine of the top 10 richest people in the world live in the United States and own more than $1.5 trillion. Meanwhile, with more than half of U.S. adults living in households that lost income due to the pandemic, nearly 26 million Americans reported having insufficient food and other groceries in November—contributing to a rise in shop-lifting of essential goods including diapers and baby formula. About 12 million renters were expected to owe nearly $6,000 in back rent after the new year. 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk enjoyed an historic growth in wealth last year, becoming the second richest person in the world and knocking Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates down to third place. Musk's total net worth grew by $142 billion in 2020, to $170 billion—the fastest creation of personal wealth in history, according to Bloomberg. 

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is at the top of the list, with a net worth of $190 billion. Bezos added more than $75 billion to his wealth in 2020, as the public grew dependent on online shopping due to Covid-19 restrictions and concern for public health. 

While Bezos and a select few others in the U.S. have amassed historic gains in personal wealth in the last year, the federal government has yet to extend much in the way of meaningful assistance to struggling Americans. The Republican-led Senate on Friday continued to stonewall a vote on legislation that would send $2,000 checks to many American households.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) denounced the proposal as "socialism for rich people" even though the plan includes a phaseout structure and individuals making only up to $115,000 per year—not those in the highest tax brackets—would receive checks. 

"Surging billionaire wealth hits a painful nerve for the millions of people who have lost loved ones and experienced declines in their health, wealth, and livelihoods," Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Bloomberg this week. "Worse, it undermines any sense that we are 'in this together'—the solidarity required to weather the difficult months ahead."