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Vaccine inequality - the ugly face of capitalism
Damien Cosgrove, Leicester Socialist Party
While a majority of adults in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and North America have been fully vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus, in low-income countries of the 'global south' only 1.4% of people had received one dose as of September 2021.
For example, in the UK over 70% of the population has received at least one vaccination dose, whereas in nations like the Democratic Republic of the Congo this sits at a shocking 0.11%. Canada and the USA have a vaccination rate of 68% whereas the rate in the whole of Africa is a mere 8.5%.
Notwithstanding the supportive rhetoric from western capitalist leaders, less than 15% of promised vaccines to poorer countries have been received. Furthermore, despite the pandemic being an opportunity for greater global collaboration, many governments in richer countries have looked inward rather than outward by hoarding vaccines, while denying them to the vulnerable internationally.
Of course, this short-sighted response will allow the virus to mutate in the unvaccinated countries with the possibility of it becoming more infectious and deadly as it inevitably spreads around the world.
Waiving Covid patents
However, to frame this issue as one of limited charity is a dismissive and insulting way to look at the real structural inequalities affecting poorer nations.
There have been increasing calls from both richer and poorer nations, to waive the patents on vaccines to allow these low-income countries to develop their own vaccines without the fear of being sued.
Even though Covid vaccines have been developed through government-funded research (the US government, for example, has poured an additional $10.5 billion into pharmaceutical companies since the pandemic began) it seems the capitalist class is happy to sacrifice the lives of the global poor for the profits of the super-rich.
US president Joe Biden said in May 2021 that Covid vaccine patents should be temporarily waived. But that call has been resisted by the big pharmaceutical companies and blocked by governments in the UK, Canada and Germany, and by the EU council of ministers.
Biden's 'altruism' may simply be a response to Russia and China's use of 'vaccine diplomacy' to increase their global influence.
It should also be recalled that Biden, when part of president Clinton's federal administration, helped repeal legislation that obliged the US government to offer government-subsidised drugs to Americans at a "reasonable price" - thus allowing pharmaceutical companies to massively enhance their profits.
When the word 'imperialism' is used, typically people think back to a dark stage in history where Britain, among other states, toured the world enslaving nations and rinsing them of their resources.
However, imperialism is not a 'bad phase in history'; global exploitation is a fundamental part of capitalism, both historically and in modern society. The stymied vaccine rollout shows that even today the profits of elites are prioritised above the lives of ordinary people globally.
The future is one of increased globalised issues, with COP26 highlighting the necessity of global cooperation to seriously deal with the climate crisis.
We need to build a movement to transform the capitalist economy, both in Britain and internationally, from one of global exploitation and environmental destruction for the profits of the super-rich, to a democratic socialist system of production to achieve sustainable growth and to end global inequality and poverty.
In The Socialist 3 November 2021: