The choices we have

I don’t usually begin an article with a reference to another article, but I am doing so today . 

The above is a link to a New York Times Article on the roll out of COVID 19 vaccines across the world.  It makes stark and horrific reading . Health poverty is as real as any other poverty and the position of countries with less resources than ours is there to be seen. The map there  says it all. 

With some exceptions it reflects any other map of global poverty

As a country we are doing ok, not perhaps as well as the Government suggest we are doing but well enough. At the time of the study quoted ( Our World in Data  University of Oxford ) we had vaccinated 70% of our population  and 56% were fully vaccinated . Better than France  60% and 46%,   better than Italy 63% and 51%  not as well as UAE 79% and 71%. 

The study also quotes  a different metric , the number of doses administered ( 1st and 2nd ) per 100 people . For UAE it was 170, UK is 12th on 126, but some above us like Aruba ( 129) and Iceland (130) are very small countries. Others are a bit  eye opening , Mongolia in 11th position has a rate of 128 per 100 people vaccinated and you have to imagine they have some special logistical issues?

So the UK has done well. 

Now move to some countries that were colonies of ours – Kenya 2.0% vaccinated 1.2% fully vaccinated 3.2 of 100 people vaccinated . Malawi, a country that has particular relevance to Scotland, 2.4 per 100 people. But in global terms they are by no means the worst ; Gambia 1.9 per 100, Yemen 1.1, Papua New Guinea, a country of interest to me because I used to live there, 1 per 100, South Sudan 0.5 per 100, Burkina Faso, 0.2 and bottom of the list Congo 0.1 and Haiti probably below that . 

Why should we care? 

I’d suggest a good starter is because we are also a part of the Human Race  but if you want to be crude about this, we seem to lack the survival instinct that you find in rather less developed life forms. This virus is attacking us as a species it just tends to do its business by infecting us as individuals. It doesn’t really discriminate by language, colour or where we live . 

It doesn’t have to really, because we do that already. We make the virus’s job a little easier. 

Brazil, who you might suggest, kindly,  were a little late to the vaccine party have 65 per 100 vaccinated now, but have lost 553, 000 souls in getting there . 

One of the thoughts some have about the lack of vaccination in Africa is that fewer people are dying there and part of the reason for that is that Africa has a far higher proportion of young people . The argument goes , they have less reason to vaccinate for this specifically. In a  sense that is true , 1.5m people per annum die in Africa and the Indian Subcontinent from TB,  a totally preventable and curable disease that we don’t invest in either .So yes Africa has other challenges but two wrongs don’t make a right . 

Those people are missing the point . Most species protect all of their beings not part of them and there is logic to that . 

Leaving a reservoir of disease is an open invitation to the virus to mutate and come back from that reservoir in a way that we cannot predict. And we have history, just look at the variants we have already seen, we speak of Alpha, Beta ,  Gamma and Delta variants but there is potential for more…if we give it the opportunity to mutate. You do that by leaving untended reservoirs of disease. 

“But we have spent a fortune on managing the disease here we can’t afford to help everyone. “ The first part is true but the premise is a non sequitur . If we leave reservoirs of disease and thus opportunities for unmanageable variant mutations,   can we argue  that NOT investing in  supporting others is sustainable? 

This is  about priorities .

We have recently seen the Government reduce (the Aid budget , initially temporarily, now it seems probably  for the medium to long term future. Because it was unaffordable? No not at all. The whole Aid  budget is in the realm of an explainable accounting error in the wider scheme of things . 

But there are other parallels to look at and be aware of. When the UK government agreed to support the COVAX initiative (that will give vaccines to less fortunate countries) there was a commitment that we would give £250m to the initiative . The AZ Vaccine was quoted as costing us around £2.17 per dose,  the Pfizer one £15. So around about 115 million AZ doses or 16m Pfizer doses. In 2016 Africa had a population of 1.2billon . Pull together the entire COVAX commitment ( we were offering 25%) and at the cheapest level about one third of the continent will be vaccinated – ok they have a lot of young people who you might not want to vaccinate at home but you are still looking at leaving around fifty percent of the continent unvaccinated . In fact COVAX themselves only speak of vaccinating 20% of their populations of interest .

Of course that is just one vaccine shot, here we are already talking about boosters and what happens next year ? 

Put this another way, today we heard that the new Royal Yacht , a vanity project if there ever was one , is now expected to cost £250 million to build. This at a time when we are saying to the same people  that as a result of the Aid cut we value your lives at £3.5billon less than we did last year ( £4.2 billion if you add in the effect of our contracting economy.)

£250m for vaccines for the poorest in the world or £250 million for a Boris yacht to promote Project Global Britain and give some junkets to politicians and businessmen ? Go figure. 

I will make no bones about it, DFID was a jewel in the crown and a huge booster to Britain’s “ soft power”.  I rate the move into the FCO and the reduction of the GDP commitment to aid as not just one of the most disgusting of politically motivated actions but also one of the most stupid own goals in the history of foreign relations. Put better perhaps by a very senior diplomat from another country “ You spent decades of investment building to the pinnacle where you were seen as world leaders then you throw it way in a  sentence,  I call that self harm .” 

But there is potential for more self harm .

As we (inappropriately) celebrate our respective  “ Freedom Days “ another part of the world wakes up to a disease it has no hope of controlling on its own but which ironically has the capacity to bite us back because of our indulgent self interest . 

It is time to ask serious questions about “ COVID beyond our borders.” Granted we needed to look at home first but now it the time to expand our thinking , if only from appropriate self interest.

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6 replies »

  1. What you have written is so true but what does it say about the intelligence of the Scottish people that not only do they think Boris is looking after Scotland but even in Orkney they dont vote for the folk who actually try to do something for them

  2. Perhaps you don’t realise the UK Government financed the research of Oxford University and AstraZenica agreed to produce the vaccine at cost price.
    Macron and the EU proceeded to rubbish its efficacy then complain they were not being supplied enough.
    In the mean time the EU prevaricated over commissioning their own “European” supplies while their own nationals died.
    The net result of this is that supplies of vaccine to third world countries are now mainly provided by Pfizer which cost four time that of AstraZenica, a company that is now considering ending vaccine manufacturing because of EU abuse.
    A final point;- under the Covax scheme, the UK after the US, has promised to donate more vaccine than any other country, including the EU.
    This is a better targeting of overseas aid than the box ticking profligacy of our usual foreign aid budget which to some extent over the years in Africa has become just a virtue signaling exercise.

  3. My point Lachlaun is that “ we” and by that I mean the affluent counties of the world of which we are one, need to consider the needs of Africa if for no other reason than self interest .

    We can’t make decisions for other countries , but we can for our own. To speak of our past foreign aid budget as profligacy suggests a weak understanding of the programme and a rather rosy and blinkered view of the immediate future.

    Six vaccines have been approved for use by Covid, majority delivered thus far are AZ and some Pfizer . Some like Moderna will come on line in 2022 .

    The majority of AZ vaccines are being produced in Korea and India, not sure they are particularly affected by “EU abuse “

    78 higher income countries have pledged to support the programme . Japan for instance have pledged $700million to Covax .The EU have pledged the equivalent of £432m while other European Countries have pledged over 1 billion Euros . USA have offered 500 m Pfizer vaccines . We have committed 100 million surplus vaccines , 25 million by end of 2021 plus the donation I ha e already mentioned

    Countries reported severe incapacity in June to vaccinate due to shortages , WHO made the point that surplus vaccines are useful but they are needed now .

    Do you have an issue with the EU ?

  4. Perhaps we find now that this is a case of governance? What if the WHO had the authority to make decisions on behalf of all subscribing nations (and was free from lobbying industries and political pressures)?
    In retrospective: Wouldn’t it have been sensible to allocate country budgets of vaccines from a common pool to where the need is greatest? For example, was the drive justified to buy so much of the vaccines for wealthy nations where there are many jobs which can be done from home or employers could have implemented intelligent working rota schemes and appropriate and innovative office safety concepts, where access to masks etc. was/is not a problem, where housing in most cases is not overcrowded and so on? Should not in fact the largest shares of vaccines have been distributed where people cannot practice physical distancing? Where there are no functioning health care systems? Where there is war or other crises?
    Where people mingle (and I am not talking about the ones who do this by choice), the virus can mutate easier because the infection rates are high. The failure to distribute vaccines where they were needed most, will most likely come back and bite us.
    Masks and physical distancing should not have been vilified, they should have been seen as cheap and effective interventions. Ventilation was also, and is still, neglected but would be such a vital tool.
    Just one simple question: If you had one dose of vaccine in your hands and two people needing it, one of them because they want the freedom to go partying and the other because they have to go out every day to work shoulder by shoulder with others in a sweatshop to earn a few pennies to feed their family… who should get this one dose?