All through 2020, the world held its collective breath in anticipation of the first COVID-19 vaccines, but now with a haphazard start to the vaccination efforts, mostly across wealthy countries, the rollout is bringing into stark focus everything that is wrong with the current global public health structure.
With over 90 million cases of COVID-19 and nearly 2 million deaths, the rate of new infections continues to skyrocket while the difficult work of coordinating what must ultimately become a global vaccination campaign is hampered by secrecy, inequality, incompetence and a lack of leadership.
“Vaccines were touted as the silver bullet that would free the world from COVID-19 – now it’s becoming clear it will take much too long to vaccinate the world at the current pace. There is an immense chasm between vaccine vials sitting in lab freezers and the billions of people who urgently need inoculation,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “Tragically, the response continues to flounder for all the same reasons the novel coronavirus exploded onto the world scene in the first place – there is no transparency, no global coordination or authoritative central scientific body, and all of this is happening in an environment where every country is out for itself.”’
By their very nature, pandemics require close coordination, data sharing and cooperation among countries. However, the current reality is quite different. Over a year since the pandemic started, China is still doing everything in its power to prevent any meaningful investigation by independent experts and journalists into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) seems to be perpetually mired in political scandals that negate its ability to lead during crises. Whether it is the indecisiveness about declaring an international public health emergency, hesitancy to recommend the use of masks, censoring of a report critical of Italy’s response to the outbreak – these failings, among many other controversies surrounding the WHO, hardly inspire confidence or the spirit of cooperation among nations.
Left to their own devices, without a leader to rally nations to unite, countries are retracing the same lines of economic inequality that have divided them in other pandemics, like HIV/AIDS. While the WHO has resorted to pleading with vaccine manufactures to supply the COVAX facility, which was created to help developing countries access vaccines, wealthy nations have bought up stockpiles of future vaccines that have not even been made yet. In the rush of vaccine nationalism, prevention efforts have been dangerously sidelined.
“Much like access to ARVs (anti-retroviral drugs) in the early days of AIDS, when it comes to coronavirus vaccines, who lives and who dies is far too often determined by whether they reside in a developed or developing country – another sad reflection of how little we’ve learned from the hard lessons of the past,” added Weinstein. “Unfortunately, without resolute leadership, solidarity and a new global public health structure rooted in transparency and accountability, COVID-19 vaccines might remain an elusive silver bullet—and we, in turn, will have to learn to live with the virus for quite some time. The time for a new approach is TODAY.”
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, currently provides medical care and/or services to over 1.5 million clients in 45 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia/Pacific Region and Europe. To learn more about AHF, please visit our website: www.aidshealth.org, find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/aidshealth and follow us on Twitter: @aidshealthcare and Instagram: @aidshealthcare