Aid charities miss the point with call for free Covid jabs

Published by The Times (10th December, 2020)

Amid the joy at seeing the first elderly Britons inoculated against Covid-19, a group called the People’s Vaccine Alliance popped up to claim that nine out of ten people in the poorest parts of the planet are going to miss out on such vaccines thanks to the greed of rich nations and grasping nature of capitalism. 

Never mind that these vaccines have only been created with such speed because of the incredible efforts of companies collaborating with scientists and states around the world. Astrazeneca says it will supply its vaccine — the cheapest, created by Oxford University — on a non-profit basis to the developing world. 

Sadly this new group, which includes Oxfam and Amnesty International, shows the myopia afflicting some charities in their mania for publicity. The most urgent need in many of the world’s poorest places is not for these new vaccines but for a renewed focus on poverty and far more deadly infections.

The struggle to create jobs — yes, through the wonders of capitalism — and protect people from disease was derailed by imposition of lockdown policies designed for wealthier nations that have left disaster in their wake in many weaker nations.

Remember those warnings that the pandemic would leave millions of corpses strewn across Africa? The reality is different: a continent of 1.3 billion people and 54 nations has had fewer recorded Covid fatalities than Britain. Even if data is inaccurate, as elsewhere, those fears were wrong.

Oxfam points to a high number of cases in nations such as Nigeria. Yet this west African country of almost 200 million people has had 1,182 deaths, less than half our tally over the past week alone. Age is among the most likely explanations. Almost 20 per cent of Britain’s population is over 65, compared with less than 2 per cent across Africa. 

Life expectancy in Nigeria is 55, partly because of malaria, which kills close to 100,000 people a year in the country, many of them children. Now the World Health Organisation warns that this year may feature the first rise in deaths from the disease in decades, dwarfing the number of Covid deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Other reports made horrifying predictions: of surging infant and maternal mortality in dislocated heath systems, soaring death tolls from TB and Aids-related illnesses, poverty rates set back decades, millions more pushed into hunger.

The debate about how best to balance health, economic and social concerns is intensified in the world’s poorest places. Covid vaccines are needed everywhere but so too is an injection of common sense.

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