Will self-interest drive greater vaccine diplomacy?
By Ricky Browne
It appears that the United Kingdom is coming out of its third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There has been a significant reduction in new cases of the last few days, although infections are still alarmingly high.
A few days ago there were as many as 55,000 new cases in a day, which made the UK have one of the highest rates of infection anywhere, only below some much smaller countries like Cyprus and Fiji.
Those countries are also seeing a reduction in their rates, but now Cuba has an increasing rate, which means that it now has a rate higher than the UK. That might have been spurred on by the mass demonstrations that have been taking place across the country as people call for liberty and the removal of the socialist dictatorship.
But the level of reduction in the UK should mean that the third wave is now petering out – right at the time that the government fully opened up the economy and removed pretty much all lockdown restrictions.
With more than two thirds of the adult population now fully vaccinated, it means that the country is approaching herd immunity – but there is concern that not enough young people, between the ages of 18 and 25, are coming forward for their vaccines.
It’s not only vaccines that create herd immunity, however, as the spread of the disease itself is also a contributor. And with up to 50,000 people per day catching it at some points, the real immunity rate could already have reached the supposed herd immunity level of 75 percent.
Meanwhile the death rate remains low as does the hospitalisation rate.
So it may be time for UK citizens to breathe a sigh of relief, even as the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Health Minister had to isolate for over a week.
Next on the agenda is the possibility of a third booster shot, particularly for the elderly and people who are at risk due to comorbidities.
But also on the agenda should be people in countries across the world who still haven’t had a chance to have even one vaccine.
According to Our World in Data, 27.2 percent of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 13.8 percent is fully vaccinated. A total of 3.89 billion doses have been administered globally, and some 32.03 million are now administered each day.
Meanwhile, only 1.1 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.
The UK has produced a vaccine – the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines – which is being sold at cost across the world. The vaccine is effective and is a fraction of the cost of other vaccines such as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are sold to make profit.
That means that the UK has done more to help the developing world survive this pandemic than any other country.
But production has not been able to keep pace with demand.
Now that the UK is approaching herd immunity, it is also donating vaccines to other countries to help them in their fight. The country has announced that it will be donating 100 million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine to people around the world. A total of 80 percent of that will go to the COVAX facility while another 20 percent donated on a strategic basis according to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Allocations will be announced in due course.
That may include Jamaica, where to date only four percent of the population has been fully vaccinated according to Our World in Data statistics. The UK will be donating 300,000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca to Jamaica this week — just as the island enters its third wave.
Countries like Jamaica have had problems acquiring the vaccine, and so far have only received vaccines that have been donated.
Other countries have relied on vaccines that have proven to be less effective, such as the Chinese and Russian vaccines. This can result in a much higher vaccination rate, but with a still high infection rate, combined with high hospitalisation and death rates.
Jamaica has taken the position that it will only use vaccines that have been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), which means that it will not be able to use the Cuban-produced vaccines anytime soon – despite the fact that many people have expressed a preference for a vaccine from that country.
Cuba has a much higher vaccination rate that Jamaica – at about 25 percent. But the statistics show that infection rates are alarmingly high and increasing. That might not be due to the quality of the vaccine, but rather due to the protests that have been happening there. And the death rates and hospitalisation rates would also need to be considered.
But back to the UK, it appears that the government has made the right decision in opening up the economy now – actually one of the first countries to go down this route. If successful, it will offer a path for other countries to follow out of this pandemic.
It is critical for the UK to now roll out a programme of helping other countries to increase their vaccination rates – because newer variants could prove capable of putting the UK back to where it started, if they are able to bypass the effectiveness of the vaccines.
That is why it is in the UK’s own self-interest to ensure that other countries – particularly those that have a connection to the it – get out of this pandemic as quickly as possible.
Given that the UK is a crossroads for most of the world, it means that most if not all countries have a connection to the UK.
The cost of this pandemic to the UK economy is immense. But the cost to the economy of this thing remerging at greater strength and causing a fourth or fifth wave would be even more immense.
So now is the time for the UK to extend a helping hand to as much of the world as it can, in its own self-interest. If may want to take a page out of the books of India and China and develop a vaccine diplomacy policy, while rolling out a PR campaign to build a better image on the world stage.
This can help the UK as it tries to expand its trade across the globe at the time that it has decoupled itself from the European Union – demonstrating itself as a world leader in human development, health and the environment.