Today's newsletter will be shorter and less theoretical, as I had to invest a big part of my morning trying to get a hold of COVID-19 lateral flow tests amid the new pandemic surge here in the United Kingdom. I couldn’t get a single one. This inspired me to write about why we are still in this situation, and why so many lives are being lost every day when it could be different.
Read this short newsletter to discover more, and head to my co-founder Colombe's interview where she tells you more about it.
THE ORIGINAL SIN: VACCINES INEQUITY
In April 2020, people started to speak about possible vaccines against COVID-19. Within a few weeks of lockdowns, governments and pharma companies realized that the pandemic was meant to last, and so they moved ahead. Trials were already running across the board by the summer, and results started popping up. While many people got excited, others grew concerned: where will these vaccines go?
Bear in mind, there were a lot of precedents to be worried about: in the early stages of the pandemic, countries closed off from the rest of the world and refused to showcase solidarity when some of the most impacted were seeing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPEs). As an Italian, I remember very well when in March 2020 fellow EU countries closed export routes for masks. Well, the same stupid and egoistic scramble happened with vaccines. Advanced economies hoarded most vaccines, ordering several times more vaccines than their needs: as of mid-january 2021, a small group of rich countries comprising just 16% of the world's population had purchased 60% of the global vaccine supply. Developing nations were left hoping for international solidarity or forced to enter the Chinese orbit to receive low-impact vaccines like Sinovac. Still today, two years into this COVID-19 nightmare, the situation is not changing. While many rich countries are administering 3rd doses, only 7% of people in low-income countries had at least one dose.
Is this just an ethical problem that people can dismiss as detached from reality? NO!
New, more aggressive variants develop and spread as wildfires because large portions of the world are not vaccinated, and hence provide a perfect testing ground for new variants. Do you remember the saying "the only way out of this is together"? No words were more truthful.
Was it possible to do things differently? YES!
Major pharma companies could have temporarily shared their licensing and technology with companies in low and middle-income countries, which could manufacture the vaccine and get it out to more people faster. The impact on their profit lines would have been minimal, as they could have continued to sell it for profit in rich countries. But they didn't. Hence, governments could have taken action. For one year, an alliance of 100+ nations led by South Africa and India has been trying to get the World Trade Organization to issue a TRIPS waiver. This means temporarily waiving intellectual property rights protections for technologies needed to prevent, contain, or treat COVID-19. However, a few countries are blocking this: mainly European countries & a few other hyper-developed nations.
Bottom line? Two years in, countless preventable deaths have occurred, international travel and business are still disrupted, schools are closing, and vast amounts of people are struggling. Words cannot do this justice, but vaccine equity could.
Drawing a more important lesson from this crisis is crucial. There is no way for nation-states to deal with global challenges. In a hyper interconnected world, where disease can cross the world with the speed of a Boeing A330, we cannot continue to fool ourselves. Without a global, democratic authority that we all vote in to take care of these and similar crises, we will be condemned to suffer from more pandemics, see our natural environment slowly perish, soon witness rich nations fighting for resources in space, or autocrats bully their people unopposed. This way, we will never witness true equity.
If you have kids or plan to have them, think about our duty to them: we can and must change the way we live on this planet before it's too late.
THE READERS' CORNER
While the team and I continue to produce content for the upcoming Equitist Manifesto (here is a short draft), you can send some comments over, but also much more. Check below some interesting ways you can help in making the world a more equitable place.
- Interesting sources: check out Atlas campaign "Health Workers First" to demand the World Health Organization to guarantee vaccines access to all health workers, regardless of their nationality. The best bit? The WHO endorsed our call!
- Join the team: become a member or a volunteer at Atlas to support the creation of our vision. For example, our Policy, Campaign, or Communication Teams would be glad to have your support to tackle societal discrimination: join us, and our Community Team will guide you to the right people ;)
- Spread the word: In our quest to create an equitable society, we produce this daily newsletter, (soon) a weekly podcast, and every month together with our 22,000+ followers, we launch campaigns to turn words into action. Please support our work and share the link to this newsletter.
Sorry for this rant, but sometimes the hypocrisy of world leaders & governments is so appalling that a reminder of what we are standing against is needed. I hope it was informative!
Let us know, as tomorrow we will continue the conversation!
We'll change the world!
Andrea Venzon (he/him)
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👉 The content of this email is part of the work to create the Equitist Manifesto. Here you can find the structure we want to follow, and previous issues are available here!