The 5th of August 2021 will go down in history as a momentous day in the development of global human solidarity. The day marked the inaugural meeting of the International Forum on Covid-19 Vaccine Cooperation. It took place amid the backdrop of rising concern over what some has come to refer to as “vaccine nationalism”, or vaccine apartheid. Apart from the annihilation of millions of people around the world that the advent of Covid-19 has brought with it since 2019, the pandemic also exposed the often hidden yet glaring socio-economic universal inequities.
As the scramble for the manufacturing of vaccines intensified, it all became an exclusive game for the rich countries to play whilst the poorer nations watched helplessly.
There has been too much Geopolitics clouding what is essentially a health issue – Covid-19. As things stand, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is on track galvanising international cooperation in an effort to undertake studies to get to the bottom of the origin-tracing of Coronavirus.
The global human solidarity shone through during the recent meeting – a first of its kind –attended virtually by several heads of state and senior government ministers who gathered to map outlasting ways of cooperating against the scourge of the pandemic.
Chinese President Xi Jinping announced at the meeting that China will strive to provide two billion Covid-19 vaccine doses to the rest of the world, effective immediately, especially where the need is dire such as in the developing nations. Beijing, President Xi said, plan to ensure that within the remaining few months of this year millions of doses would have reached the relevant targets wherever they may be in the world.
In addition, China has offered a whopping one hundred US dollars ($100 million) “to the Covid-19 vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX)”. This is a facility that the African Union (AU) in particular hopes to utilise in order to gain improved access to the Covid-19 vaccines and distribute to the more than 50 of its member-states in Africa. China’s President Xi told the inaugural gathering that this was his country’s way of “fulfilling its commitment to making vaccines a global public good”.
This is indeed encouraging development for the poorer nations of the lopsided world order. It is reassuring to know that the wealthy states, or some of them, are not inward-looking and are evidently concerned about the health challenges of the less fortunate states.
South Africa’s Minister for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), Dr Naledi Pandor, at the same meeting, led a chorus of appreciation for China’s remarkable role in supporting “The Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator as well as the COVAX”. She appealed to all countries to work together with China in pursuit of the global public good objectives.
When Covid-19 first broke out, too much time was wasted on playing politics rather than being preoccupied with finding health solutions to what is clearly a health matter. How sad. Sad because global leaders are signatories to a series of Rome Statutes that binds them to international cooperation.
Multilateral forums such as the UN and its many other arms, coupled with organisations such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Commonwealth of Nations, continental and regional bodies, etc, are morally duty-bound to pursue the ethos of global public good in the interest of a very complex human race. As we speak, there are way too many countries that are yet to vaccinate their populations. Not because the failure is their choice, but simply because they lack the means to fulfil the public good in their countries. They lack the financial muscle to purchase the vaccines from mainly the so-called First World countries that are leading in the race for vaccine manufacturing.
Where poorer nations are able to cobble together the exorbitant funding to purchase vaccines from their wealthy counterparts, too often they are ordered to wait their turn right at the back of the queue. It is in this light that Beijing’s hand of humanity deserves praise. Covid-19 is not about politics and should not be. It is a matter of life and death for the rich as well as the poor alike.
The difference, of course, is that medical technologists, scientists and various medical scholars concur over the empirical evidence that vaccination does form a wall of protection against the pandemic. In fact, this is why I find conspiracy theorists that refuse to be vaccinated to be really a vexatious issue. But that’s a debate for another day. Yes, because vaccines are a weapon to defeat the pandemic, not a tool for scoring brownie points.
Councillor Du Ping, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in SA, said in a statement this week: “As the largest developing country and a responsible member of the international community, China has always been committed to promoting a global community of health for all. Despite the enormous pressure of its own vaccination and prevention against imported cases, China has been making every effort to increase production capacity, taking the lead in developing vaccines as a global public good, and helping the world build ‘a Great Wall of Immunization’ as soon as possible,” she said.
She revealed that China has already donated vaccines to more than 100 countries and currently export vaccines to more than 60 countries worldwide, “with a total amount exceeding 770 million doses, ranking first in the world”, Councillor Du added.
As the world wrestles with the indiscriminate pandemic that respects no borders, the international community ought to follow China’s example of practising true multilateralism and seeking solidarity with other countries, irrespective of the inherent Geopolitics.
Many Western nations have themselves developed vaccines and also selling them to the needy client-states. This is where the WTO need to intervene and put their foot down by waiving Patents in an effort to accelerate global access to the vaccines by all nations, developed and developing alike.
A generous universal vaccine contribution to COVAX would also go a long way if coupled with an effective public relations campaign aimed at encouraging every Covid-19 vaccine-manufacturing country to contribute towards what Beijing correctly regard as “a global public good”. In that way, human solidarity will triumph over sectarian Geopolitics that blatantly inhibits collective human progress.