If there was a God in the sky looking down on the human race, at its wars, enmity, injustice, hunger and homelessness, to name but a few of the torments being ruthlessly propagated on the third rock from the sun, She could be forgiven for becoming so enraged, that She decided to teach those two-legged idiots a lesson. Given their propensity to be adversarial rather than co-operative, she might have decided to give them an enemy they’d never forget: invisible, lethal and global.
Her thinking might have gone like this: a global threat will require a global response. Therefore, unleash a microscopic virus with the ability to infect people, to transmit itself through the very act which carries life and death within it, breathing. Had She hoped to instil an awareness of common vulnerability requiring a common solution? The visionary realisation that if the whole world is made immune against this virus, the whole world is safe. Alas, for the best laid plans of mice, men and Gods.
The reality is that the disasters on our planet can’t be blamed on a supernatural being. Although the major religions have been doing it for centuries; thereby removing agency, embedding superstitious fear and contributing to our current problems. Much of our planet’s suffering, including Covid, is entirely of our own making.
Before the trolls hit their keyboards, let me clarify. I’m not suggesting the world’s people knowingly created Covid; as far as I’m aware the causes are yet to be determined. However, the indubitable fact is, as Sherlock might say, Covid has emerged and has rolled across the world like a tsunami, killing millions, causing grief, hardship and suffering. I’m criticising the manner in which many governments, including the British government, have dealt with the Covid crisis, and I’m focusing on the monopoly and profiteering they’ve allowed the big pharmaceutical companies. Profiteering that’s prevented people in medium and low-income countries from receiving vaccinations and saving lives; tantamount to a war-crime.
Letting Covid infect millions of people and evolve mutations, creates a vicious cycle of more deaths, more damage to economies and more human misery. Voices across the globe have been pointing out a simple, irrefutable truth: vaccinate the world to make the world safe.
The villain here isn’t Covid – Covid’s doing what Covid does. The villains are the big pharmaceutical companies, generally known as Big Pharma, who’re charging far more than costs justify for vaccines, whose profits have risen astronomically and who’re busy creating Covid billionaires. Also to blame are the governments of wealthier nations who’ve used taxpayers’ money (rightly so) to fund the research into vaccines, but won’t force Big Pharma to temporarily suspend intellectual property (IP) rights.
While people in the richer nations have received first, second, and booster jabs, millions across the world have yet to receive a single one. “A Covid-19 vaccine must be seen as a global good, a people’s vaccine.” (UN Secretary-General António Guterres). A call supported by The People’s Vaccine Alliance.
India and South Africa, along with 100 other countries have initiated the campaign for IP rights on vaccines, to be temporarily waived so that every country can make its own during the pandemic.
Robbie Silverman, Oxfam America’s private sector engagement manager, says: “Future variants could send us back to square one. To truly get this virus under control, we need to end vaccine monopolies, share the recipe, ramp up production around the world and vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.”
Over 70 percent of people polled in G7 countries, have sent a clear message to their governments. “A supermajority of people in G7 countries believe that governments should ensure pharmaceutical companies share the formulas and technology to their vaccines, … The public believes that pharmaceutical companies should be fairly compensated for developing vaccines, but should be prevented from holding a monopoly on the jabs.”
I love people’s sense of fairness; however, the vaccines were developed by huge public investment; citizens and governments should have a say in who owns the rights. Analysis of the production costs, suggests they could be made for as little as $1.20. per dose. That’s £1.01 in UK money. Big Pharma is charging around $22.00.
Most people appreciate that pharmaceutical companies may have the production infrastructure but that’s no reason for them to have a monopoly or to allow them to deprive huge areas of the world from this life-saving medicine. It’s cruel and sickening.
Not only are their actions dangerous for millions of businesses, jobs and families, above all they’re inhumane. Extending help in times of trouble, isn’t a new idea. When an earthquake causes devastation or floods displace thousands, countries across the world scramble to organise aid and assistance. When charities initiate appeals for funds to help victims of tragedy or catastrophe, millions of people contribute. No matter what cynics may say, the majority of people instinctively respond to the anguish and affliction of others. When the horrific Boston Marathon bombing occurred, shocking us with its evil, I remember reading a comment by someone, which added an insight about our humanity, “… look at the people running towards the victims to help.”
Throughout the centuries and across the globe, people have sacrificed themselves to save others or to free their countries from oppression. Hardened sceptics may jeer at claims that people possess empathy and humanity, but our history and present times provide numerous examples of affinity and compassion; our emotions are immediately engaged when we see someone being attacked or threatened. I recall a friend describing an incident when he and one of his friends were walking down a street in London’s West End, and saw a group of young Asians being harassed by racist thugs; the two men went across the road and inserted themselves between them. They survived to tell the tale, but there’re are those who’ve lost their lives in the most ordinary circumstances. In a London kebab shop, Grandmother Betty Walsh was randomly set upon by a frenzied knifeman, “punched to the floor and stabbed,” A young man, 20year old Ali Abucar Ali came between them, trying to stave off the attacker, and was fatally stabbed himself.
In the twenty-first century, we consider ourselves civilised; to have matured beyond our barbaric instincts and possessing an advanced understanding of our relationship to the world, including formless concepts. Much of the magic in our lives comes from our appreciation of beauty, nobility, generosity, the idea of the Greater Good, and that ultimate form of help, when all other options have failed: mercy. As The Bard himself put it:
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
If we mobilise to render assistance in times of calamity, why not during this time of Covid? Why is Covid different to any other affliction? It’s not even necessary to load planes with truckloads of food and essentials. All that’s needed is some digital paperwork by the pharmaceutical companies. Once that’s done, supporters, manufacturers and others will scramble to start producing as efficiently as they can. We could then truly say, we’ve mounted a global effort against Covid.
“Big Pharma’s business model—receive billions in public investments, charge exorbitant prices for life-saving medicines, pay little tax—is gold dust for wealthy investors and corporate executives but devastating for global public health.”(Robbie Silverman)
Why is Big Pharma allowed to behave like rampaging warlords, laying waste to lives, increasing destitution and inflicting anguish on vast areas of the globe? Their refusal to waive IP rights, particularly when only asked to do so temporarily, has no legitimacy and governments should assert their power and force them to do so.
In a powerful letter, former heads of states: Presidents, Prime Ministers (including Gordon Brown from the UK) and Nobel Laureates called on candidates for German Chancellor, and later President Biden, to waive intellectual property rights on covid vaccines.
In another authoritative letter, in the UK, business leaders, economists, academics and trade unions in the UK wrote to PM Boris Johnson, urging him to support the call to suspend IP rights during the pandemic. “The UK government has invested £337 million in COVID-19 vaccine research and development (R&D), manufacturing and distribution, including £65.5 million for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. These upfront commitments of public funds have facilitated rapid access to this vaccine for the British population, but we are concerned they could be in vain if we do not also ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines for other countries at the same time. Leaving COVID-19 to spread uncontrollably in other parts of the world is not only immoral, but it is deeply self-defeating.”
If “immoral and self-defeating” arguments aren’t urgent and pertinent enough to move the hands of Governments and Big Pharma, then at the very least, they must do it as an act of mercy.
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice
…. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
The first two years of the 2020s have claimed their place in history for all the wrong reasons. Let’s ensure 2022 does the same, for an entirely different reason: an intelligent, practical, and humanitarian act of global proportions.