Just seven per cent of the population of Africa have been vaccinated against Covid-19. The inaction of developed countries shows black lives do not matter, and will ultimately prevent us beating the virus, says Chine McDonald
We knew this would happen. Those who have been calling for global vaccine equity since the start of the pandemic – including many of the world’s NGOs – warned that without provision of vaccines throughout the world, none of us would ever be truly ‘safe’ from Covid-19.
And now the lack of provision of vaccines has led to the Omicron variant, which risks plunging the UK, and other Western nations, back into crisis. It feels like a never-ending cycle of freedom followed by restrictions; of unlocking followed by uncertainty.
We need a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine
The worst thing is that this was all so predictable. It’s happened because richer – and predominantly white – nations in the global north have been hoarding vaccines, jumping to the front of the queue and failing to provide fairer access to vaccines for poorer nations - predominantly in Africa.
The Black Lives Matter movement has made many in our Western societies start to address the racial injustice that still exists in our midst. But we only need to look at the Covid-19 pandemic to see white supremacy writ large on a global scale. Surely equal vaccine distribution would be one way for the world to show that black lives really do matter. And until we realise this, we may never be free of coronavirus.
As Christians who believe in a God who loves each of us equally (Romans 2:11) – no matter where we’re from – we should be the loudest voices calling for fair access to vaccines for all. It’s an opportunity to exercise Jesus’s commandment for us to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). And our neighbours include those who live in countries far away from us and those who do not look like us. We’re not only all part of God’s big family, but part of a global community. Coronavirus – and the Omicron variant – has shown us just how interconnected we are. The self-interest and selfishness of richer nations has led us to where we are now; and these attitudes will just not cut it if we are to really see an end to this pandemic nightmare.
It is unbelievable to think that just seven per cent of the populations of African countries have been fully vaccinated so far, compared to 68 per cent in high income countries and 63 per cent in upper-middle income countries. This is not only unfair and unjust, it is outrageous.
Earlier this week, I was moved by the righteous anger of Dr Ayoade Alakija from the Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance. In her interview for the BBC, she said that, had Covid-19 started in Africa, there would have been no global race to find a vaccine. “Africa would have been locked away. Africa would have been seen as expendable,” she told reporters, claiming that not vaccinating the whole world in an “equitable, urgent and speedy manner” had led to the situation in which we now find ourselves. Hoarding vaccines was “quite frankly… unacceptable”, she said, and the travel bans being implemented by countries such as the UK were based more on politics than science.
Equal vaccine distribution would show that black lives really do matter
Since the arrival of Covid-19, the People’s Vaccine Alliance – of which Christian Aid is a part – has been saying that vaccines must be available for all as a global common good. For this to be possible, it will take a fundamental shift in the ethos of vaccine development, including changes to production and distribution and a sharing of vaccine solutions - because without waivers on patents, there just won’t be enough for everyone. As the Alliance members say: “We need a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine.”