Home: Opinion

Vaccinate the world

If we believe in democracy, economic success or basic survival, the world’s media must send the message loud and clear

Peter Geoghegan Anthony Barnett
Peter Geoghegan Anthony Barnett
23 December 2021, 12.00am
A placard at a protest in South Africa to demand a fair, global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, June 2021
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Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters/Alamy

Never in the history of humankind has the blindingly obvious been ignored with such obviously high risk. Never have the cautious and persistent warnings of medical and biological scientists been so spectacularly and swiftly vindicated.

It is genuinely weird. In the next few days an immensely sophisticated piece of technological kit that has taken years of ingenuity and sophistication to conceive and manufacture – the James Webb Space Telescope – will be rocketed into space to peer into the depths of the universe to examine the nature of its origins. Meanwhile, staring us all in the face, is the obvious fact that the human species is playing roulette with its own viability.

We are not now talking about the global environment, where the refusal to invest sufficiently in measures to lower the rate of climate warming is exasperating. At least we can all agree it won’t be easy.

We are talking about the need to vaccinate the world against COVID-19. The moment credible vaccines were developed we were informed that for them to work, everyone needed to have them. Leave the poor and the crowded unvaccinated, we were told, and new variants would mutate that would find their way around the protections against the old ones.

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So it has proved.

A great gathering of leaders took place around COP26, which should have been the venue to agree to fund immediate global vaccination as an exercise in the necessary cooperation. The opportunity was passed over.

Joe Biden brought the world's ‘democracies’ together this month at a summit meeting to discuss the need to defend democracy. No one seems to have thought that the need to ensure the health of the poor and the wealthy equally was a democratic issue.

The US has just passed a budget of $576bn to spend on its military in a year. China is doubling its nuclear weapons programme. Russia is massing its armies on the Ukraine border. The European Union is debating how to prevent Poland from becoming a dictatorship. The government of the UK is putting its head up its bottom to see if it can find a silver lining in Brexit.

Meanwhile up pops Omicron to say: “Told you so,” and it proves itself to be vertically contagious.

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Universal vaccination could have prevented the viral reproduction of COVID that generates such variations. Now, unless the world is vaccinated, the likelihood is there will be another variant that will be far more lethal.

It isn’t certain – we are talking about probability. It isn’t expensive to do our best to prevent it, if you measure the cost as a percentage of military expenditure. It isn’t difficult and it does not need a telescope to see it makes sense.

Twenty years ago a group of editors and contributors cooperated to start openDemocracy in the belief that there was a need for a free and open space to discuss the globalisation of the world, in the face of the arrogance of the co-called Washington consensus. Today, after the financial crash, military disasters and the rise of authoritarianism, we have changed our tune and are committed to investigating what is going wrong and the corruptions that are driving the threats to democracy.

The most immediate threat of all is the possibility, however remote, of a more lethal variant of COVID. The obvious precautionary step is to vaccinate the world population in a single, cooperative effort. We are the editors who oversaw openDemocracy at its start and oversee it now. We call on every publication in the world to call on every government to do the obvious and work together to vaccinate us all now, in 2022.

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