Of course we were going to see this, an equation between HIV and coronavirus. In a pandemic the first thing to do is to try to get infection under control – entirely true. Then we might want to go on and try to eradicate the disease entirely, As we have done with smallpox and we’re very close to doing with polio.
Which does indeed mean that once the methods of doing those things are invented then they need to be rolled out around the world. Sure, we’re all OK with this so far. But here’s the bad part of the argument:
In the race to vaccinate the population before new vaccine-resistant variants of Covid-19 take hold, a national approach misses the way pandemics actually develop in a globalised world. The speed with which the virus spread across continents in early 2020 perfectly demonstrates this. Unless we take an international approach to vaccination, coordinating a vaccine rollout across every continent at the same rate, and pooling resources to make that possible, we are doomed to failure. We must begin to celebrate each vaccination with the same sense of success and hope, whether it takes place in the UK or any other country in the world. The alternative – in which we vaccinate the UK population while huge parts of the world remain unvaccinated – is both an unforgivable moral failure and a miscalculation which will inevitably lead to new variants of Covid-19 re-entering the UK.
The framing of Covid-19 has been wrong from the very start. A pandemic is not a league table. Vaccinating the population quicker than other countries should not be a source of pride. It is instead evidence of a global failure to grasp the very nature of a pandemic – a stupendously shortsighted act of collective self-harm. Let us not regret this failure in a generation. It is not quite too late to change course.
Nope, doesn’t follow at all.
Start from the purely personal and HIV related view. Assume, also, that this is from the view of a rich person – as we all are by any global standard. So, I’m going to be taxed in order to provide this item, a cure – or vaccine, or treatment, or wiping out of – for HIV. I have both a personal and immediate desire from this and also a slightly looser and longer term desire.
The short term one is that HIV is wiped out of that sexual pool that I dip my wick in. This benefits me directly and is a fair justification for the taxes to be paid to gain that end. As, actually, it was at the time. My libertine days were spent, post-AIDs and pre-retrovirals, in that floating population of would be actors/musicians/models and students that service the West End restaurants and yes, I knew some HIV positive.
Once that dating pool is protected then sure, the billions in research have been spent why not roll that out around the world to kill the disease entirely? But that is a secondary concern for me, the person paying for the work to be done, isn’t it?
This is before we get to the insistence that the roll out should be at the same rate in different populations. Because that’s a silly argument as well. For while there are indeed contacts between populations the contacts within them are much more numerous. We have actually wiped out polio in the UK, US and so on. That it still exists in Nigeria is something we want to deal with, sure. But equally, we’re sure glad we have wiped it out here even if not entirely and globally.
Finally, of course, there’s the political optics of it all. Which motivates better? Sacrifice – of whatever, money, effort, taxes – to save Nigerians? Or sacrifice to save your granny? Which is going to produce the greater effort?
Well, that’s the thing about public goods, isn’t it? The cost is all in the creation in the first place. So, rolling out vaccines to those paying for them increases the willingness to pay for the vaccine and so accelerates the total solution, doesn’t it? As it did with HIV. It really was designing PrEP so the bathhouses could reopen that led to the availability for sub-Saharan Africa.