Ruwayda Mustafah: Britain’s global vaccination role – an economic and moral position

10 Mar

Ruwayda Mustafah is a British-Kurdish writer with an interest in political communications and governance.

The recent news that at least 22 million UK citizens have now received their first Coronavirus vaccination jab is, in the words of the Prime Minister, an “extraordinary feat”. As first country to approve the Pfizer vaccine, and as the seventh fastest vaccinators in the world, we should rightly take pride in the speed of our response and programme rollout.

For dozens of lower income and developing countries however, the situation looks considerably more alarming. Many of these countries are still months away from their very first jab. Across the world’s poorest counties, it is predicted that at least 90 per cent of people in 67 low-income countries won’t get vaccinated this year.

Developed countries meanwhile have purchased enough vaccines to vaccinate their populations nearly three times over. This is what Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO, called the “me-first approach”’and means that wealthy nations have monopolised almost the entire vaccine supply.

Where does this leave Britain? In a post-Brexit period, when we are looking to increase our own independent standing in the world, we have a moral duty to ensure we are doing everything we can to support these developing nations with their vaccination programmes.

One of the simplest ways in which the UK can help economically disadvantaged counties is by donating excess stock. The UK is set to have a considerable surplus of stock, having ordered 367 million doses of vaccine from seven different developers. Other counties, such as Norway and India, have already committed to donating part of their regular stock to poorer nations – so the least we can do is ensure surplus stock is made available to those most in need.

Another way in which we can demonstrate this support is by further financing the distribution of the vaccine in developing countries. This week, Professor Sarah Gilbert, the co-creator of the Oxford vaccine, has called on those receiving the vaccine in the UK to contribute to the WHO Covid-19 relief fund.

It shouldn’t however be the responsibility of citizens, themselves going through challenging and anxious times, to be funding disadvantaged counties’ efforts to fight the pandemic; government should be looking to at least match every donation made my private citizens in the UK towards the WHO Covid-19 relief fund.

Third, we must be doing everything we can to help countries with their implementation of the vaccine programme. As we have seen in the UK, despite our advanced infrastructure, world-leading public health systems and available frontline workers, there are still fundamental challenges in vaccinating as fast and as efficiently as possible.

For the poorest countries, this magnitude of problems is only exacerbated by having a barely functioning healthcare system, crippling debt and limited resources. The challenge therefore becomes much bigger, and needs greater western support – including from the UK – to address.

Calling on the Government to do more to help disadvantaged countries isn’t to discredit or belittle our efforts to date. Britain has played a leading role in the Coronavirus COVAX initiative, contributing £584 million to the programme’s £5.7 billion goal of making access to the Covid-19 vaccines a more level playing field (making Britain the most generous funder).

Our scientists and academics have also led the way, from the development of the Oxford vaccine to response teams advising health services and governments worldwide. But we can be doing even more to demonstrate leadership and cooperation on the delivery of the vaccine worldwide.

Furthermore, the argument for the UK to be better helping these struggling nations is not just an ethical one, but an economic one too.

New research suggests that 49 per cent of the global economic costs for the Coronavirus pandemic will be shouldered by advanced economies, such as that of the UK. Even if the UK was to vaccinate its entire population, the disruptions to trade networks and international production resulting from poorer counties being unvaccinated will result in a huge financial knock-on effect for the UK.

Pandemics are indiscriminate and don’t pay attention to borders or nationality, and if poorer countries aren’t vaccinated, affluent counties such as the UK will be affected too. Helping developing counties that supply us with so many of our goods to get vaccinated will therefore be in as much our economic interest, and the wider world’s interest, as theirs.

Facilitating the purchase of vaccination for developing countries is not therefore just about charity, it’s an investment in their future and ours. If the UK wants to stream ahead as an exporting superpower globally, it must take into account the hardships developing countries are facing as a result of Coronavirus, and extend a helping hand to friendly allies.