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13 January 2021

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Covid vaccine nationalism threatens pandemic response

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Dave Carr, East London Socialist Party

Without a global vaccination programme, the Covid-19 virus will continue to circulate among the world's poorest countries, and possibly mutate into a new strain requiring a new vaccine. Yet the Covax fund, designed to make Covid vaccines widely available beyond the advanced capitalist countries, is chronically underfunded.

The Covax initiative, set up by the World Health Organisation, European Commission and France, is an alliance of 190 countries aiming to provide two billion doses of Covid vaccines to low and middle-income countries by the end of 2021 - enough to inoculate health workers and 20% of the most vulnerable people.

The fund is hundreds of millions of dollars short and, according to Unicef, faces a "high risk" of failure, leaving billions of people with no access to vaccines until as late as 2024.

So far, the US and China have made no contributions to the world vaccine programme, while the World Bank has merely offered repayable loans to poor countries to purchase the vaccines.

Moreover, at the end of 2020 the rich countries (with only 13% of the world's population) had pre-ordered 50% of vaccine production. This is yet another example of a 'Covid nationalist', short-sighted approach of the major capitalist countries - especially with the pandemic costing the world economy $375 billion each month.

Covax cannot utilise the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines because of the high costs per dose. Pfizer's vaccines costs about $18.40-$19.50 per dose and Moderna's $25-$37 - the company's share price has shot up by nearly 400% since the start of 2020, making its boss a billionaire in the process - whereas Covax's cost assumption is based on $5.20 per dose.

Therefore it means waiting for other vaccines, such as AstraZeneca's, Novovax and Sanofi to gain approval. So the roll out may not start until the second half of 2021, especially as the Modi regime in India - where 60% of the world's vaccines are manufactured - has banned for three months the export of the licenced AstraZeneca vaccine, in order to inoculate its most vulnerable population groups and key workers first.

India's government has also approved for emergency use the Covaxin vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech, even though it is still undergoing clinical trials to determine its efficacy and safety.

Like the issues of combating damaging climate change, or addressing humanitarian catastrophes, only a global strategy can tackle the Covid pandemic. But because capitalism is rooted in the existence of nation-states, it stymies worldwide cooperation. Yet another example of why democratic, socialist planning is a burning necessity for humanity.

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Article dated 13 January 2021

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Thurrock council workers striking against pay cuts, photo by Dave Murray

Thurrock council workers striking against pay cuts, photo Dave Murray

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