Journalism in the service of society

Vaccine nativity and naivety in a fractured World

By Owei Lakemfa

HUMANITY in 2020, the year we bade a hurried goodbye to, yesterday, like snails, withdrew into their shells following the outbreak of the corona virus Covid-19 pandemic. It was an instinctive abandonment of multilateralism. Not even the countries that claim to be religious entities, remembered that they are enjoined to be their brother’s keeper. Like Cain in the Holy Book, they would have retorted to any enquiry about their action: Am I my brother’s keeper?

 However, it was a vain scramble of individualism. Human beings behaved less out of knowledge and more like the child who thought that if war were to break out, all he would need do, is run and hide under his grandmother’s bed, as if the war can never get there.

So, it was in the shell of each country’s skin the virus incubated each with its own solitary index case. The result at the close of that troubling year, was that from the seven isolated cases from the Wuhan fish market, humanity had 82.7 million infection cases, 46.7 million persons recovered while tragically, 1.8 million succumbed.

None of the thriving tribes of prophets and clerics claiming the power of clairvoyance predicted such an outcome for the old year. Has the Almighty stopped talking to humanity or we all simply have sinned and gone short of the ways of the Lord?

 The pandemic set the human race in a desperate race for a cure, which as we painfully came to realise, was unattainable in the old year. Simultaneously, humanity, with the possible exemption of Africans, scrambled to produce vaccines. African leaders might have been so curly because our colonial masters have had it ingrained in them that the continent is destined to just produce raw materials and be dependent on others. So while most of them squandered the riches of their countries and were busy igniting or trying to put out fires of conflict in attempts to live the rest of their lives in presidential mansions, other humans were busy trying to develop vaccines.

Many African leaders are also aware that a vaccine cannot be hidden in a closet; that no matter how late, it would get to the continent. But there are countries like Cuba and Iran who apart from their sense of purpose, initiative, principles and responsibility, are aware that in a Trumpian world, they are like orphans. That even under the Covid-19 pandemic, the powerful United States refused to exempt needed medicines from the punitive sanctions it had imposed on both countries.

Cuba, for instance, is aware that it would not be allowed to buy or access any vaccine that has up to 10 per-cent materials from America. So where Africa with a December 28, 2020 United Nations estimated population of 1,356,137,676 or 16.72 per cent of world population, has no known vaccine trials of its own, tiny Cuba with its 11,326,616 citizens or 0.15 per-cent has not one, two or three, but four different Covid-19 vaccine trials going on simultaneously.

One of them, Mambisa, named after Cuban freedom fighters of African origin, is the only trial vaccine in the world using the nasal route. The second vaccine, Abdala is named after a play using Arab names written by Jose Marti, the 19th Century Cuban philosopher-revolutionary. The other Cuban trial vaccines are Soberana 1 and 2. Despite the race to produce its own Covid-19 vaccines, Cuba says it is clear only a universal response and collaboration will save the universe.

 The Iranians with 1.2 million Covid-19 infections and 55,000 deaths, this Tuesday, December 29, 2020, rolled out their first vaccine human trials. The vaccine, Coviran, is produced by Shifa Pharmed, an arm of the state-owned pharmaceutical conglomerate, Barekat. To show seriousness and faith, the first person to get jabbed at the human trials was Tayebeh Mokhber, daughter of the man overseeing Barekat.

Yes, the issues of finding cures and vaccines for Covid-19 are matters of science and it makes sense to follow the science. However, it is also politics dominated by the capitalist ideology which, despite all pretentions to one humanity and claims of all humans being born equal, is propelled by class, profit and greed.

So, the equality of humans may depend on which country they are born and who their parents are. For instance, a desperate country like America with 19.7 million infections and 341,000 deaths last year, may be trying to buy up available vaccines. By July, 2020, at a cost of $1.95 billion, it had placed orders for 100 million doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine called Tozinameran or Comirnaty that were then undergoing trials and yet to be approved.

The American government also secured from Pfizer the option of buying an additional 500 million doses. How many countries in the world are rich enough to raise the $10 billion America has set aside under its ‘Operation Warp Speed’ to get vaccines to Americans as quickly as possible?

It means that the first doses of the vaccines are likely to go to the rich and powerful countries. For instance, the American Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, complained that in new negotiations with Pfizer, the company was foot dragging and warned that the American government is willing to use “every power of the Defence Production Act”to force the company to supply America additional vaccine doses.” Even in rich countries, the powerful and affluent are likely to have priority. In the case of America, given its history, tradition and class relations, it is likely that the vaccines will get to the White population faster than the Black and Hispanic ones.

Also, geographical conditions can play a role in who gets the vaccines. For instance the Pfizer one which is currently the leading vaccine, requires extremely low storage temperature; minus 70 degrees Celsius which is colder than the Antarctica winter. So Africa with a tropical climate, has more challenges using the Pfizer vaccines compared to Europe and America.

Again, unless more humane countries develop and mass produce the vaccines like Russia and China are doing, private companies like Pfizer will make a kill and fight any generic productions like they did in the case of retroviral drugs for HIV-AIDS. With 64 vaccines in clinical human trials, and 19 reaching the final stages of testing, humanity may be in for some luck. Generally, in a pandemic, it should be ridiculous talking about vaccine nativity because only a collective universal struggle can save the human race. However, in the short run in order to save as many lives as possible, as many countries as possible should strive to produce their own vaccines or be licenced to do so. This is the fastest road to the democratization of Covid-19 vaccines.

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