Vaccine Apartheid Prolonging COVID, Not Vaccine Hesitancy
Next week will mark the first anniversary of the National Health Service (NHS) administering the first COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials in a hospital in Coventry.
Photo Insert: Vaccine inequality continues to be the prime suspect that is prolonging the pandemic.
Almost a year on from December 8, 2020, the Omicron variant threatens to ruin yet another holiday season and raises questions about the UK government’s approach, Alena Ivanova reported for openDemocracy.
But we already knew of the dangers of vaccine inequality. While the UK announced it had ordered an additional 114 million COVID vaccine doses – despite around 85% of its adult population being fully vaccinated – just 6% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people have received two doses.
And hastily reimposed travel bans on people from the African continent reveal more than the refusal of governments in the Global North to deal with the crisis at hand. The racist scapegoating of Black people has a history as old as public health itself.
There is no conclusive evidence that the new travel ban imposed by the UK on six countries in southern Africa will be effective. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence to show that the new variant was circulating in Europe much before Omicron was identified in South Africa, thanks to the scientific rigor and openness of South African researchers.
Arbitrary travel bans can affect scientific cooperation and knowledge-sharing, as Tulio de Oliveira, director of South Africa’s Center for Epidemic Response & Innovation, has warned. He tweeted that travel restrictions mean laboratories don’t get essential supplies.
But politicians and CEOs in the Global North have been busy excusing their dreadful track record on cooperation with low- and middle-income countries, blaming the low vaccination levels in southern Africa on hesitancy.
Soundbites such as Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla’s claim that vaccine hesitancy in low-income countries is "way, way higher" than the percentage of hesitancy in Europe or in the US or Japan, have angered many, who have accused them of being tropes grounded in racism – akin to those used during the HIV crisis.
In reality, research has suggested a higher willingness to take COVID vaccines in lower- and middle-income countries.
But portraying people in Africa as anti-science and averse to progress has long been the colonizer’s excuse to dominate and subjugate and we should not be surprised that it keeps rearing its ugly head.
What’s worrying is the speed with which such excuses are adopted by the UK government, while being left unchallenged by the media.