“Sharing the vaccine is in our own interest: space/place, COVID-19 & global survival”
QE Scholar, 2019/2021
Last week, I had a long conversation with a very good friend who is a medical practitioner in the United States of America. Kobena and I were talking about the vaccines that have been manufactured to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. We were both happy and enthusiastic about the new development. My friend and I agreed that in order for us to stop this virus or keep it under control just like we have done with SARS, we need a holistic/global strategy that takes every place on planet Earth into account or else we will all perish together. We also agreed that this pandemic provides a perfect opportunity for humankind to start thinking differently about the word ‘share’. Instead of seeing ‘sharing’ as a bad word representing some socialist ‘distributive justice’, we must see it as the epitome of a selfless need to stay alive. In fact, it is the very opposite of the word ‘share’ that has led all of us to where we are now – ‘hoard’ /’stockpile’/covet.
We humans have become hoarders/stockpilers/hyper-consumers who crave things/stuff for their own sake. We have become selfish among ourselves as humans, and also selfish to other living organisms with whom we share the ecosystem. According to the oxford dictionary, to share means “to give a portion of (something) to another or others”. The COVID-19 vaccine is ‘something’ to be shared and not to be hoarded or consumed like ‘stuff we buy on eBay, for any tendency to hoard/stockpile/covet the vaccine (s) just for a small group of people in just one space/place/location of the world would be a big mistake.
COVID-19 vaccine is not a consumer item:
It is on record that some vaccines for COVID-19 have been manufactured and sufficient doses for more than a third of the world’s population are now available (2021). However, “many people in low-income countries might have to wait until 2023 or 2024 for vaccination” (Duke Global Health Innovation Centre, Durham, North Carolina). It is also on record that over 10 billion doses of vaccines have been preordered and delivered to Western nations. This is impressive, and very much in line with how the world’s wealth has been distributed historically. The rest of the world, known collectively as poorer nations, are being asked to wait for the surplus from the West. As reported by the New York Times last month:
“…Of the vaccine doses given globally, roughly three-quarters have gone to only 10 countries. At least 30 countries have NOT yet injected a single person.”
(New York Times, March 23rd, 2021).
There are no surprises there! The West has always disproportionately consumed more than enough of any resource in the world. The gluttony of those of us in the West is unbelievable. Indeed, our consumption patterns have led to the creation of a new epoch – the “Anthropocene”, a term coined by Crutzen and Stoermer (2000) to refer to the epoch of human influence on the surface of the Earth. For example, our consumption patterns have led us to invade the habitats of other species, including disease causing pathogens, just to extract more things for consumption.
In the West, we shop for fun; we shop when we are stressed; we shop when we need excitement in our lives; we shop when we are happy; we shop when we are sad; we shop to forget our troubles – we just shop, for it is part and parcel of what it means to live in the West. Buying is what keeps the economy going, we are told! And so here in the island-of-sanity for example, most suburbian-ites have garages but they do not park their cars in them.
Why? Because our garages have now become prime storage spaces for the things we shop for but have no use for. And so we dump the things we have shopped for (our stuff) in our garages, and then we wait for the early summer to have a ‘garage sale’…so that we can have enough space to begin the cycle again….and the shopping cycle continues unabated!
COVID-19 vaccine: game on
But the COVID-19 vaccine cannot be treated like any other item we shop for. Keeping the vaccine for ourselves (just like we do with all other items/commodities) will not be a smart move because our spaces/places/localities/landscapes are inextricably linked to ‘other’ spaces/places/localities/landscapes and ‘other’ people in ‘those’ places in more ways than one. As I write, coltan, that dull black metallic ore from which we get the tantalum used to manufacture tantalum capacitors which, in turn, is used to manufacture the mobile phones we so much covet, are still being mined in the belly of sub-Saharan Africa by people who will eventually end up in Western place/locations/landscapes.
Indeed, we live in a world of constant interaction with people from faraway places through our travels for business and other wealth creating activities, and this alone is a recipe for the spread of any virus (including COVID-19 and its mutant and virulent strains). It makes sense to share the ‘new wealth’ (the vaccine is the ‘new wealth’) so that we can preserve our own health. If the West does not share the vaccines with people of all ‘other’ places we will soon be sharing mutant and virulent forms of COVID-19 with all ‘other’ places. At that time, it will be game over.
Self-interest is not a socialist idea:
This is our only chance of preserving our own health and wellbeing in a world where the 1% continue to amass all the wealth forgetting that without our health we will not live to enjoy the wealth we have legitimately created. It is now time for the West to share the COVID-19 vaccines with the poorer countries for one very simple and ‘selfish’ reason – self-interest.
We are in this pandemic together, and we would never get out of it ‘alive’ if those vaccines are not equitably distributed now, rather than later!. Yes, I am talking about a better distribution of the wealth for once (we need to move away from corporate welfare to total welfare where everyone benefits rather than the wealthy few).
This clarion call makes sense only if we see the health of the ‘other’ as though it were our own, for in this situation, hoarding the vaccine for ourselves only will not guarantee health even for us – it will have the unthinkable effect. Amassing the COVID-19 vaccine for ourselves would be an unwise thing to do as this could backfire. We have to share sooner rather than later, and waiting is a recipe for disaster, for as Bob Marley will say:
“When the rain fall, it don’t fall on one man’s housetop.”
We can create all the social infrastructure in the world but if we are unhealthy, we cannot enjoy any of that. We cannot treat the COVID-19 vaccine as though having it to ourselves will automatically guarantee a COVID-19 free existence.
Sharing the vaccine is in our own self-interest, so let us do it now!
PS I owe a debt of gratitude to my good friend, bwana and akulu – Dr. B. Chunga – (currently on a fellowship in South Africa from Malawi), for his undying support and encouragement for my work!
Andy Kusi-Appiah is an adjunct professor at Carleton University. His interests are on the impact of social and environmental changes on the health and well-being of vulnerable groups (e.g., 2nd generation Canadians of African descent).