Home Covid-19 Of Course Rich People Should Have The Covid Vaccine First

Of Course Rich People Should Have The Covid Vaccine First

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The Guardian manages to get knickers twisted – wrenched even – at the idea that poor folks in poor countries might have to wait for their Covid vaccines. This would seem fairly obvious really as it’s going to be rich people in rich countries who pay for the vaccine anyway.

Firstly in that the development cost of the vaccine is going to be paid by rich country taxpayers. But also that it’s going to be those same rich country taxpayers who buy the vaccine for poorer people in poorer places. Entirely out of self-interest too. A largely but not entirely vaccinated population in, say, the UK is less safe if there’re still a billion people in Africa unvaccinated than if some goodly proportion in Africa are vaccinated. So, we’ll shell out that marginal cost in order to vaccinate Africa, or at least those parts of it reachable.

So, seems fair enough, it’s you and me coughing up to not cough up our lungs so we’re first in line.

The specific choke point is in fact in the manufacturing:

Governments in predominantly wealthy countries are negotiating to buy nearly 8.8bn doses of prospective Covid-19 vaccines in a “frenzy of deals” that could mean many poor countries would not get access to immunisation until at least 2024, a report says.

None of the 320-plus potential vaccines in development have been approved for use, but countries have already struck advance purchasing agreements for 3.73bn doses of the most promising candidates, with negotiations underway for another 5bn doses, the study by Duke University’s global health innovation centre calculated.

However, manufacturers will only be able to produce so much of the successful candidates, with researchers estimating it could take three to four years to supply enough vaccine to immunise the global population. That means many wealthy countries may be able to vaccinate their entire populations several times over before most people in low-income countries are immunised, the report said.

Someone’s got to wait so who should it be? Those paying aren’t the most obvious candidates.

But there’s also a more bloodcurdling argument. It should be the rich people first. Not necessarily the billionaires, but those in the richer economies. For what is it that we’re really worried about here? The collapse of economies of course. Covid is costing untold trillions. That’s why the breakneck spending upon vaccines is such a no-brainer. However much we spend upon boffins in labs it’s trivial compared to the cost of not spending.

But that very argument itself contains within it the case for who has to wait. People in those richer economies are more productive economically. This is not an arguable point, it’s a definitional fact. Richer places are those where people are more productive, people being more productive is what makes a richer place. So, given that our worries are at least in part economic then we desire to dose the vaccine to those more productive, richer, people first.

That is, yes, this is the moral option, that the poor have to wait if it is indeed true that someone has to wait. This all flows ineluctably from our first point, that some significant part of the damage of Covid is economic – therefore those offered the cure or the vaccine are necessarily those who contribute the most economically.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Perhaps a more ethically reassuring point is that the demographics in developing countries skew much younger, so Covid is expected to cause far much less harm there.

    A more troubling dilemma would be if we faced an illness that tended to cause most harm to young adults (quite plausible this could happen – the Spanish Flu had an age profile unlike the seasonal flu). If it was nasty enough to kill significant numbers, but not so nasty as to threaten economic collapse, there’d be a very strong utilitarian arguments that such an illness should be given priority in the developing countries it would be most damaging in, though pragmatically I expect “payer gets it first” would win out.

    I don’t think we should kid ourselves that the West is giving the Covid vaccine to itself first out of some high moral sensibility that this is the ethically optimal solution.

    • Very good.
      It is all rather a thought experiment. What if the rules of nature wrt coronaviruses could be changed so there was a vaccine with a certain efficacy that meant the difference between restricted life and normal life. That difference is greater in rich countries compared to poorer ones so a does does most benefit in the richer places at first. But hypothetical as you cheekily imply.

  2. If they could be bothered looking, we’ve many examples of illnesses that hit poor people/countries much more than richer people/countries. They undoubtedly also scream “poor people should be first in line for (eg) tuberculosis treatment!”. The answer to which is: “yes, but how will those poor people pay for it? Rich people don’t get TB, so there’s no rich people to pay for TB treatment to be developed”.
    Don’t care! Give it to them for free!!
    But how will they pay for it?
    DON’T CARE, FREEEEEE!!!!!!!! FACSIST!!!! RACSIST!!! etc.

    History has shown that you treat (eg) TB by developing an economy rich enough to afford to treat TB.

  3. Since everything is being so rushed, it’s we rich idiots who’ll be taking the risks that the injections’ll be a total fuckup. I do remember that at the time of the ebola panic, the Africans were insisting that we wicked white Westerners shouldn’t experiment on their beautiful black bodies with our pernicious potions.

    Once everything is proven, the handling of the poor country vaccinations will be routine.

    Besides, the excess deaths from the covid panic do not appear to be totally world shattering. I suspect that after a couple of years, the Guardian will prove that the entire business was a sinister capitalist plot by Big Pharma to rake in tons of loot and conduct their evil experiments on helpless Third Worlders. Despite the heroic resistance of noble jihadists for decency like themselves.

  4. I’ve no problem with them starting with the mega rich. Klaus Schwab will be first in the queue for sure.

    Oh, wait …

  5. Hurriedly developed, untested on a broader population, vaccine so with unknown side-effects or efficacy in large scale clinical use… stand-by for the Grauniad complaining the rich are using the poor as guinea pigs.

  6. The economic harm of the Kung Flu is probably much greater than the observed deaths. A bit amazing that no one seems interested in the loss of life caused by lockdowns – increased suicides, homicides, drug overdoses, etc. And, of course there’s the unmeasurable decline in quality of life. We have a neighbor who had “nonessential” surgery delayed 6 months – nothing life threatening, just agonizing and debilitating.

    So, if this is significant (perhaps larger), then rich countries should be first – save the most lives that way.

    • You are reminding me of the case of the newborn who died because the Queensland border was shut. Naturally the people in northern New South Wales usually cross the border to go to the nearest hospital.

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