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Vaccine Nationalism, Big Promises and Warped Speed

From sneering dismissiveness of the coronavirus as nothing more than a common cold to a grand promise to find a vaccine, President Donald Trump is all promises. “We remain on track to deliver a vaccine before the end of the year and maybe even before November 1st,” he told a White House news conference on September 4. “We think we can probably have it sometime during the month of October.”

Operation Warp Speed, he tried convincing the press corps, was doing what it was required to do. He had spoken to the head of Pfizer – “great guy”. He was expecting “the results of its trial very, very shortly – next month – but very shortly.” To Pfizer’s efforts could be added those of Johnson & Johnson (“also doing very well”) and Moderna. “We have some really great companies. They’re all doing very well.”

Even within go-it-alone USA, mistrust reigns on when a working vaccine will be ready. An election is in the offing, and any proximity to the date of November in terms of miraculous discoveries will be seen as smelly. Democratic Vice Presidential hopeful Kamala Harris, beating the electoral drum, sees some votes in telling citizenry of the republic that Trump cannot be trusted about anything to do with the vaccine. He will put the toes of public officials against the fire; he will marginalise and sack critics. “If past is prologue,” she told CNN’s State of the Union, “they will not, they’ll be muzzled, they’ll be sidelined.”

There is also much to suggest that no country, or corporation, should be entirely trusted in this endeavour. The process of finding a vaccine is so intermingled with promises of a speedy discoveries and rapid manufacture, it has left even the most ardent vaccinators worried. The scientists have been told to work miracles in the laboratory; pharmaceutical giants are being told to be generous, yet continue to sign agreements with governments that will enable them to charge handsomely when the time comes. As Adam Kamradt-Scott, a student of global health security relevantly notes, such “commercial-in-confidence agreements are usually signed in secret, often with different prices being charged to different governments depending on whether they are the first customer or 30th and their ability to pay.”

The number of candidate vaccines is growing: some 160 at the moment, 31 or so having entered human clinical trials. Negotiating barriers are being treated as minor obstacles to be danced around with lithe finesse. The urgency is such that even Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken of one of his daughters taking “part in the experiment” of the Sputnik V vaccine.

The World Health Organization has been attempting to quash any ideas of needless haste, stressing the values of thoroughness and safety. Chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan is trying to be resolute in that regard. “No vaccine is going to be mass-deployed until regulators are confident, governments are confident, and the WHO is confident it has met the minimum standards of safety.” All vaccine candidates would, she claims, have to “go through the Phase III trials.”

The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is also preaching against the temptations of vaccine nationalism. “Vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic.” He has urged countries to join the COVAX global vaccine allocation plan, and announced on Friday that 78 high-income states had put their names to a collective now numbering 170. Run by the WHO and the Gavi vaccine alliance, the object is the equitable distribution of vaccination shots, when the time comes.

There is much trumpeting about the merits of COVAX, much of it from the collective itself. The Gavi vaccine alliance CEO, Seth Berkley, is calling the collaboration unique, the 170 countries comprising 70 per cent of the globe’s population. It “has the world’s largest and most diverse portfolio of COVID-19 vaccines, and as such represents the world’s best hope of bringing the acute phase of this pandemic to a swift end.” Joining the group will mean that “both self-financing countries and funded countries will gain access to this portfolio of vaccines, as and when they prove to be both safe and effective.”

There are a few efforts seeking to limit the sharper effects of vaccine nationalism, though they are by no means assured of success. The Open COVID Pledge, comprising a number “of scientists, lawyers, entrepreneurs and individuals working to promote the removal of obstacles involving intellectual property in the fight against COVID-19” is one such enterprise. Creative Commons has been given the task of steering the pledge through such difficult waters. “We believe this initiative,” claims the OCP, “will have a profound impact beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.” Good to be optimistic in such matters.

The COVAX effort has not done away with the problems of vaccine bilateralism, which remain pressing. Paul Hudson, CEO of Sanofi, sees the US “right to the largest pre-order” of the first vaccine as manifest destiny. Adar Poonawalla, chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, which by volume is the largest maker of vaccines, is also clear that “the vaccine, at least initially, would have to go to our countrymen before it goes abroad.” Countries who have the cash and the means are looking out for their own.

The outcome, as things, stand, promises to be traditional in geopolitics and health. Old divisions and inequalities will be reasserted with marked savagery. The rich and affluent will get first dibs and first jabs; the impoverished will have to wait their turn. And the virus will continue to do its work.

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  1. Phil Pryor

    This virus is a crisis intensifier, and we see the best and worst of people, with Donald Crapskull a huge leader. Never able to deliver, concentrate, serve or focus, the big stinker is boasting and identifying and exaggerating to his likely supporters, in a way that is excruciatingly childish, empty, dishonest. The WHO has been threatened by USA corporate interests who wish to cash in on a great opportunity, and oodles of public and private monmey is up for harvest and into the Caymans coffers and silos of utter greed. Wow, more expense account refills, private jets, bonds, pussy, yachts, limos, mansions and yet more pussy, especially as some Hollywood perverts are out of the way. It’s a man’s world, a predator’s paradise, the USA in its festering fulminations and currect overripe state of decay, but, there’s an election to be bought and rigged, a crowd to be pacified by dreamy lies, a disease to fight, and…money.

  2. New England Cocky

    I seem to remember that we were here before when the influenza epidemic of the early noughties under Shrubya Bush (Bush Minor) when Secretary of State Dick Cheney took a financial interest in vaccine production. Could it be that this interest is reflected in the present policies of the USA (United States of Apartheid)?

  3. Charles

    2020: Vaccine developer Dr Paul Offit expressed alarm that “warp speed” developers might ignore standard vaccine development safeguards, cautioning, “You’re giving this vaccine, likely, to healthy people — who are not the people typically dying from this infection.”
    2017: The very same Dr Paul Offit said of vaccine safety for children “each infant would have the theoretical capacity to respond to about 10 000 vaccines at any one time” – How quickly his opinion changed now vaccines are being mandated for adults. Wall to wall medial idiots.

  4. Kerri

    Trump has claimed there will be a vaccine before the election.
    He is desperate. He needs it by then.
    Russia has a vaccine.
    Trump loves Putin.
    Putin loves a Trojan Horse.
    Just think about that for a moment?
    And how will Donald Trump guarantee that his vaccine does not go to Democrat voters?

  5. Michael Taylor

    If this wasn’t an election year I’m inclined to think there would have been no such announcement. Or any bother, for that matter.

  6. Charles

    Kerri, Russia is a master of subversive tactics. Trump might want to use a vaccine win at the next election but I have doubts about the Russian research. In 2020 Russia partnered with Israel to make the vaccine 1* and at the same time Palestine has agreed to receive the vaccine from Israel 2*
    Have Palestine and Israel really put aside hostilities? How close are Russia and Israel? If Russia makes a vaccine for export but uses a saline placebo for its own people instead, which nations will pay the highest cost in terms of damaged bodies when they use ‘the vaccine’? If a vaccine comes from Russia, China, Israel or Palestine, would you take it?

  7. Charles

    KK, yes China has form in regards to rubbish in vaccines.
    AstraZeneca, Scomo’s pick for an Australian vaccine supplier “has agreed to have a Chinese drugmaker produce hundreds of millions of doses of its experimental Covid-19 vaccine for use in China if it is approved by regulators there” – “Unlike a similar vaccine candidate by China’s CanSino Biologics Inc, which is based on a virus found in humans, the Oxford vaccine uses a virus from the chimpanzee, meaning people are less likely to have pre-existing immunity to it.”
    Now the white-coated gods of medicine ‘believe’ (or is that an arrogant ‘know’) chimpanzees hold the key to herd immunity and are preparing to inject a chemical concoction into millions of Australians because that’s what gods of medicine can get away with these days. Hmm, let me think about this for a millisecond. Done. Think I’ll pass and watch how this all pans out.

    Given the relationship between Aust and China at the moment, what could possibly go wrong?
    April 2020:
    “Thousands of kits meant to screen for COVID-19 delivered to New Brunswick from a supplier in China last week were contaminated and can’t be used at this point. As soon as we received them, we realized that they were all contaminated with bacteria … In addition to being contaminated, the product was defective,” Garceau said.

    KK, there’s a certain beauty in your trusting attitude or blind faith or whatever it is you have, hope it works out for you.

    As a footnote, if vaccines are mandated here then isn’t about time Australia had a compensation scheme?
    “Australia is one of the few industrialised countries not to have a vaccine injury compensation scheme already in place. Such schemes exist in 25 other countries, including the US and Britain, providing compensation to individuals who have had severe but rare vaccine-induced injuries.”

  8. Kronomex

    “Palestine isn’t likely to produce a vaccine and I…” That’s a really nasty and spiteful comment. Are you ashamed? Probably not.

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