A presidential Ubuntu

Life on our planet Earth is crazy and endearing. While some want and do not have vaccines, others have and do not want them.

In the next few days, a patent will be issued for a key process in the development of the main vaccines against COVID-19. The United States government will control that patent, which will give it an opportunity to exert influence over pharmaceutical companies to expand access to vaccines for less wealthy countries, according to an article on March 21, published by The New York Times.

Of course, fairness between countries has not been an important criterion in determining the order of vaccination. Of the more than half a billion vaccines that have been administered in the world so far, more than three-quarters have been administered in the world’s richest countries. Furthermore, it is estimated that several years will pass before poor countries are able to vaccinate their populations. In Kenya, for example, only 30% of the population will have received the vaccine before 2023.

In exchange for immediate reassurance, we forget this great disproportion in terms of access to vaccines against COVID-19. Our selfishness makes us forget it. On the other hand, it is naive to think that the possibility of being first in line would guarantee that we would not be infected with the coronavirus again. Naive and clumsy. The greater the inequality in the vaccination process, the lower the chances of eradicating the coronavirus.

For this reason, it is necessary to change our approach in relation to access to vaccines, not for alleged philanthropic or altruistic reasons but for the conviction that we must reconsider the actions that we have undertaken in the last little over a year, when the COVID-19. That turn of the wheel would mean going from the “me first” that has prevailed in our days to the “if we all win, I win”.

Like headless chickens

The accelerated development of COVID-19 vaccines was achieved, in a large part, thanks to funding from the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom. Those governments partnered with pharmaceutical companies, invested billions of dollars to source raw materials, fund clinical trials, and modernize factories. Another millionaire figure was committed to buy the vaccines. By partnering with pharmaceutical companies, the governments of those countries gained the ability to be the first to get vaccinated.

According to health experts, the virus only replicates when it infects someone. That is, it does not have the material to produce new viruses on its own. The coronavirus does not have a life of its own, but it could continue to mutate as long as there are people who are not vaccinated. A vaccination that reaches us all, at a planetary level, is the most effective way to avoid its mutation.

People who move from one country to another, including those vaccinated, will be continuously exposed to these possible mutations of the virus, which could make new vaccination campaigns necessary. This would mean a spiral of higher spending and inequality. In this interconnected and fluid world, it is illusory to think that once the population of our neighborhood, our city or country has been vaccinated, we will be protected against possible variants of the virus.

The pandemic found us unprepared and made us run around like headless chickens. Head is precisely what our rulers have lacked. They have lost their minds and have left over financial commitments to which they must respond. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) had requested that contracts between rich countries and pharmaceutical companies include clauses that guarantee an equitable distribution of vaccines. This did not happen, of course, because it undermined competitiveness among pharmaceutical companies.

In May 2020, the leaders of Pakistan, Ghana and South Africa urged WHO to see vaccines as “global public goods” and to support a vaccine that could be manufactured quickly and distributed free of charge. The Trump administration was quick to block that proposal, noting that asking for equitable access to vaccines and treatments sent “the wrong message to innovators.”

To have and not want

Life on our little planet Earth is crazy and endearing. While some want and do not have vaccines, others have and do not want them. Those who act in this way do not understand that getting vaccinated is a responsibility towards others and do not seem to value their privileges. Privileges that, ironically, would make it possible for all of us to be better off.

According to an article published on the CNN website in Spanish, on March 31, in the United States approximately 29% of Republicans and 28% of evangelical Christians have stated that they will not be vaccinated. In Costa Rica, the newspaper La Nación on February 2 highlighted that more than 500 residents of Curridabat were not interested in receiving the vaccine against COVID-19.

“If everyone wins, I win,” says a South African ethical rule known as ubuntu. If we all get vaccinated, I finally get rid of that unexpected and undesirable visitor called coronavirus. It’s that simple and, at the same time, ambitious. As ambitious as, ideally, should have been the thinking of our rulers from the beginning.

Today we have the hope that the American president will take advantage of the patent available to him to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies, for the benefit of all. Is not easy. Perhaps it is necessary for the stars to align so that Mr. Biden applies a presidential Ubuntu and thus leads us out of this dark pandemic tunnel. As our grandparents said, all hope is not lost.