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.