Vaccinating the world
Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee (Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images).
Eastern Eye Staff
By Amit Roy
PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has added his voice to those calling for a global vaccination programme.
It’s a noble idea, though in practice any leader has to perform a careful balancing act. Can vaccines be given to poorer countries when not everyone at home has had two doses?
India’s Serum Institute, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, was meant to be the world’s great hope. But its exports are banned because India is nowhere near coping with the nightmare at home. At the weekend I spoke to a friend who said restrictions are slightly easing in Mumbai. That is also the case in Delhi.
But relatives in Kolkata tell me they ring up vaccine centres to be told: “Sorry, we don’t have any, and no, we can’t say when we will get fresh supplies.”
Families are impoverishing themselves buying much needed oxygen for sick relatives or getting them into hospital. I was told of one man in our part of Kolkata, who was admitted to RG Kar, a well-known government hospital. He was apparently not fed for three days. He was moved to a private hospital where he died after a month.
Boris’s call has been directed to the G7 leaders ahead of their summit in Cornwall from June 11-13. It came a day after Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Economics, also demanded “a global vaccination programme to bring Covid-19 under control”, pointing out that “as it stands today, vaccine access is deeply unequal”.
They said: “India, one of the largest vaccine manufacturers in the world, has fully vaccinated three per cent of its population, and is still in the middle of a nightmarish second wave that has forced the country to stop exports of all vaccines.”
They drew attention to the plight of the poor: “An estimated 100 million more people are now living in extreme poverty compared to the start of the pandemic. Developing countries contemplating lockdown are caught in a double bind between economic disaster (in India, for example, the first lockdown cost the country almost a quarter of its GDP) and overflowing morgues and mortuaries.”
They concluded: “The catastrophic moral failure on the part of rich countries to help poorer nations can only reinforce the strong suspicion in much of the developing world that, despite talk of global cooperation and shared fortunes, when push comes to shove it’s everyone for themselves. This could be devastating for global efforts against the climate crisis.”
In Britain right wing lobbies want all restrictions removed at any cost on June 21, arguing, “Why is the government trying to bring Covid deaths down to zero by stealth?”
Others, having obsessed about getting into pubs, are furious Portugal has been moved from a green list holiday destination to amber. The government should ignore the “let Covid patients die” lobby and continue sensible precautions for a few more weeks if need be.