The political economy of vaccines: World poverty, vaccination, herd immunity

The political economy of vaccines: World poverty, vaccination, herd immunity Featured

Last of 2 parts

THIS second part on the Covid-19 vaccine puts into perspective the need for massive vaccination as a precondition to lifting the lockdowns and reviving the global economy.

Lockdowns, the knee-jerk solution to the pandemic, have exacted an intolerable toll assaulting the global economic jugular, and these are not altruistic. Oxfam International reports that “…this crisis is aggravating inequality, with the richest quickly getting richer while it will likely take years for the world’s poorest to recover…the 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their Covid-19 losses within just nine months, but it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover.”

The path to global economic recovery is clear. And experts now agree that lockdowns should be lifted simultaneously or in tandem to be effective in stimulating international trade. Leaving pockets of the contagion will just allow it to spike all over again.

Vaccine nationalism — first to the privileged

We also outlined the inequitable access to the cure. Pragmatism comes into the picture as the dynamics of the market allow preferential treatment for the industrialized countries being the catalysts for economic recovery — the United States, China, Russia, the European Union, India, the Asian Tigers and Japan representing 70 percent of the world’s GNP.

Trump’s executive order set the tone prioritizing access to US-made vaccines for Americans. Europe is pursuing the same. The effect of preordering billions of doses to protect their own citizens’ lives several times over is tantamount to exclusion against poor nations, while pushing prices up. But this is the name of the game. Big Pharma and public health are big business. So, in a world of disparities, the rich comes first, simply following the dictums of Darwin’s truisms.

Digressing a little, what the world really faces now is more complicated than just the scarcity of vaccines for everyone.

Life before the vaccines

Prior to the vaccines, we were helpless and naked to infection and death; now there are more than 102 million cases worldwide resulting in 2.2 million Covid-19 deaths. This fear was borne out of our collective memory singularly driven by several pandemics in the last millennia. The 1918 Spanish Flu killed 50 million and we extrapolated the kill rate to the current contagion. The “Black Death” of the Middle Ages conjured up similar images of dead bodies collected daily from houses and burned in piles or buried in common graveyards.

The present-day equivalent gruesome images are of bodies taken out from the ICUs after detaching the intubated ventilators from the lungs of the dead, and the shrouded bodies sent to the morgues, or stacked up in refrigerated vans taking up the slack as mortuaries have become congested. The lucky families get to escort them to the crematoria. Loved ones could not even be visited at the hospitals. We see terrible lonely deaths. Our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters without us at their bedsides at the moment of death. No goodbyes and lingering farewells. These are the vivid images that create fear. These fears are real, not self-induced.

Vaccine-induced fear

But after traumatic months of waiting, the vaccine is now being rolled out in millions of doses. Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, the Big Pharma complemented by Sputnik, Sinovac and Sinopharm — all dispensed under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), a valid health protocol to skirt the years normally required to have a vaccine thoroughly tested and brought to market. It is akin to a license for Big Pharma with governments’ consent for public use with no liabilities attached, just inherently acceptable risks; with choices left to each individual — to be vaccinated or not. But our perspectives have suddenly changed. Our fears have become self-induced.

Antivaccine movement

Forty percent of Americans don’t plan to get vaccinated (Todd Ackerman, Houston Chronicle, December 2020). An American reflecting the opinions of the many doesn’t want to be “…a science experiment for a vaccine against a virus that has a very high survival rate.” Vaccines which were meant to alleviate the fears of infection and terrors conjured up over the months have morphed our fears. Vaccines kill people — infected or not. So, the fear of death by Covid-19 infection is substituted by the fear of death by vaccination.

The antivaxxer movement has always been vocal on the fringes regurgitating pseudoscientific data. In America it was motivated by some spurious study that vaccinations produce “autism spectrum disorders (ASD)” in many children. This false claim originated in the late 1990s principally by a certain Andrew Wakefield, a British physician whose misinformation and half-truths were widely circulated, gaining traction. Earlier in 2020, conspiracy theories shaped around Bill Gates, supposedly abetted by Dr. Anthony Fauci, proliferated, purportedly creating both the coronavirus and the vaccines in secret laboratories; implanting the latter with microchips to be injected to billions of people to track their movements. The MAGA, QAnon movements and rightist cohorts swear by these.

Herd immunity

But known to the medical profession are the imperatives of a cure. What constitutes treatment for the pandemic is not as simple as it seems. Although scientists are not unanimous, herd immunity is pursued as the best course to arrest the spread. Accordingly, “Herd or community immunity, is when a large part of the population of an area is immune to a specific disease. If enough people are resistant to the cause of a disease, such as a virus or bacteria, it has nowhere to go.

“While not every single individual may be immune, the group as a whole has protection.

This is because there are fewer high-risk people overall. The infection rates drop, and the disease peters out. Herd immunity protects at-risk populations. These include babies and those whose immune systems are weak and can’t get resistance on their own.” (WebMD).

There are two ways to build immunity. When one is infected and recovered, the antibodies that fought off the infection avert another attack. The second method is vaccination to build resistance making the body immune to the disease. Epidemiologists suggest that 50 percent to 67 percent of the population need to be resistant before herd immunity becomes viable and infection rates start to go down.

PH situation

In the Philippines, a Pulse Asia survey showed that almost half of the population are not inclined to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Social media proliferates with horror stories of their deleterious effects and the risk of dying. There is a precedent to this doubt as there were instances of kids dying after being vaccinated by Dengvaxia — a corruption-driven vaccinations initiative against “dengue fever” by the health bureaucracy several years back.

The way things are going, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases is in the process of ordering the vaccine — from God knows where and at what prices, costs and firm commitments. These are all supposedly confidential, a nice euphemism to cover for possible corrupt negotiations.

What should bother our political leadership is that unless herd immunity is achieved, lockdowns must stay in place and the economy further deteriorates with no recovery in sight. Thanks to the pasaway and our antivaxxers, we revert to our “Bahala na, matira ang matibay.” And in the end, we will all be dead anyway!

Read 161 times Last modified on Wednesday, 03 February 2021 10:38
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