Vaccine apartheid By Malik Muhammad Ashraf

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Coronavirus is admittedly a common challenge for all the nations of the world and it demands complete solidarity among them with regards to mitigating its adverse effects on the global economy as well as on poor countries. But unfortunately, the required solidarity was subordinated to traditional rivalry between powerful nations vying to establish their ascendency on the global chessboard of politics. The result was that poor countries which were adversely hit by the pandemic failed to receive the support which was badly needed to stem the rot in their economies.

With regards to saving human lives, we see a similar disunity marred by the nationalistic feelings with regards to the distribution of the vaccine. The director General of WHO, Tendros Ghebreyesus called the distribution of vaccines ‘grotesque’ and a catastrophic moral failure. He observed “let us not call reserving the bulk of vaccines for a handful rich ex-colonial or settler-colonial states ‘vaccine nationalism’ Let us call it what it is: vaccine apartheid at a global level”.

It is an irrefutable reality that rich countries that manufactured the bulk of vaccines—who possessed the technical and medical know-how to produce them—have kept their supplies almost entirely to themselves. Moderna’s vaccine production has mostly been used to inoculate the population in the United States besides supplying it to some countries in Europe and Canada. Pfizer has supplied its vaccines to the United States from its US facilities, and to Europe and the UK from its European plants. It has also supplied vaccines to Israel and the Gulf monarchies and begrudgingly to parts of Latin America, which makes up a small fraction of its total production.

Squabbles have also been witnessed among rich countries with each other over vaccines supplies—an example of this is the clash between the EU and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the UK. This perhaps is why they have had no time to think about the rest of the world. It is believed that about 90 percent of the nearly 400 million vaccines have been delivered to dwellers of wealthy and middle-income countries.

This attitude of the rich nations is badly affecting countries like Pakistan with big populations and lacking the technical know-how to produce the vaccine indigenously. However Pakistan is lucky that its time-tested friend China has come to its rescue. According to the Minister of State on Health Services Dr Faisal Sultan, the government has received 19.82 million doses out of which 91 percent were purchased while the rest were given as donation. He also revealed that Pakistan had already signed deals for over 30 million doses and will continue to procure more during the year adding that the government had planned to vaccinate 70 million population by the end of this year. Dr Faisal also announced the indigenous production of the single-dose Chinese Casino jabs following an agreement with the Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical giant on the transfer of technology, which he said would make the country self-reliant in meeting its Covid 19 vaccine needs. Under this agreement, the National Institute of Health would be able to produce three million doses a month which will significantly reduce Islamabad’s dependence on other countries. Last August, Pakistan also signed an agreement with GAVI under which the organisation would provide 90 million vaccines to Pakistan, as soon as the vaccines come available.

Apart from the efforts to procure the vaccines, elaborate arrangements have been made throughout the country to vaccinate the people and it is estimated that nearly 150,000 people are being vaccinated daily and the government aims to enhance that target to 300,000 vaccinations. The government is also conducting a sustained campaign through the media to motivate the people for getting the jab, as many people are still sceptical about the efficacy of the vaccine.

The NCOC is reviewing the situation in the country on a daily basis and is devising strategies accordingly to check the spread of the pandemic as well as putting measures in place to have SOPs fully implemented. The government has also sought assistance from the Army to ensure observance of the SOPs by the people and the business community.

The foregoing verifiable realities leave no doubt about the fact that the government, notwithstanding the constraints with regards to supply of the vaccines, was very much alive to the situation and making relentless efforts to save lives and employing all resources at its disposal in this regard. It has surely adopted a proactive approach in the procurement of the vaccine which deserves unqualified accolades. But it is regrettable to note that the political opponents of the government are trying their utmost to belittle the initiatives of the government and doing politics on the issue which actually needed national solidarity.

It is appalling to hear them crying hoarse that the government had not done anything timely and was solely depending on donations of the vaccinations. They are so naïve and obsessed with the anti-government feelings that they do not bother to check the facts before having a swipe at the government. Unfortunately the opposition has failed to recognise its required role. In a democratic polity the ruling party and the opposition are two sides of the same coin. While differing on policy issues on rational basis they are obligated to work for the national good, particularly at a time of national crisis. Politics can wait for better times.

Granted the opposition has serious differences with the government on governance related issues but that cannot be used as a justification to denigrate the efforts of the government to deal with a national crisis of unfathomable proportions. While we expect global solidarity on the pandemic we must also think about this possibility at the national level. At least deliberate efforts to misinform the public must be avoided if the opposition thinks that under no circumstances it could cooperate with the government.