COVAX – Vaccine Equity, or a Moral Crime?
27 September 2021

Originally published by TrialSiteNews

by David Bell

Funding neo-colonialism in the name of COVID-19

Wealthier countries have traditionally provided taxpayer funding in aid to low-income populations. Their taxpayers trust this is well spent, directed to where it helps the most needy, most effectively. Billions of dollars have recently been allocated to COVID-19 vaccine programme ‘COVAX’, a World Health Organization effort that most assume would save lives. In reality, COVAX looks set to continue the remarkable spate of destruction to livelihoods, human rights and future health prospects resulting from lockdowns against COVID-19 across much of the globe.

Across developing countries, these new and totalitarian WHO policies have reduced healthcare access and pushed the growing economies of low-income countries into recession. Practices that were previously considered inappropriate to slow the spread of an aerosolized virus, due to their limited effectiveness and potentially unethical nature, have rapidly become the norm.

WHO and partner institutions based around lake Geneva are now doubling down on the harm, facilitating a massive campaign to vaccinate hundreds of millions across the globe who have demonstrably little to gain, but very much to lose. Promoted as ‘vaccine equity’, COVAX appears a virtuous pursuit. But rather than driving equity, it is destined to compound the growing inequity of lockdowns, diverting billions in aid dollars from basic health programs in low-income countries to the pockets of wealthy investors in software and Big Pharma.

Why should the wealthy overweight populations of rich countries have better access to a vaccine than those less economically fortunate? Access to health care, after all, is a basic human right.  It is. And this is exactly why mass vaccination across the world will be more akin to oppression than equity. It is directly against the principles of equality and bottom-up prioritization that WHO has traditionally espoused. To justify this claim, it’s worth walking through the reality of mass COVID-19 vaccination in lower income countries:

  • COVID-19 risk, for the vast majority, is minimal. The disease is commonly severe in elderly populations in higher income countries, where obesity and other metabolic co-morbidities are common, while rare in children. Over 50% of the 1.3B people in sub-Saharan Africa are under 19 years of age, whilst less than 1% are over 75 years. Overweight is relatively rare north of South Africa. Deaths have remained accordingly low, even allowing for lower levels of care.
  • Much of the population is already immune. After 16 months of community spread, a large proportion of these populations are already immune – in similarly dense Indian populations more than two thirds of people show such immunity. Post-infection immunity is broader than the vaccine can provide, with little additional benefit to be gained.
  • The risk of vaccine-induced harm is higher. Reported adverse events associated with COVID-19 vaccines are far higher than other vaccines used by WHO, dwarfing three decades of US VAERS reports for other vaccines. While a single side-effect in younger men, myocarditis (heart inflammation) outweighs the rate of severe COVID-19 in this group, local capacity to deal with such reactions is poor.
  • COVID-19 vaccines wont stop Their protective effect against transmission declines over several months, and may wane against severe COVID-19 disease and death.
  • Maintaining vaccination-induced immunity is unsustainable. Repeated boosters present a challenge in high-income countries – they are inconceivable in most low-income countries where resources for pre-existing diseases are already inadequate. So benefit will likely be short-term, even in the vulnerable, while those at the low-risk will ‘steal’ boosters from the few vulnerable who would benefit.
  • Resources will be diverted from areas of greater impact. Estimates to mass-vaccinate sub-Saharan Africa alone range are around 10 billion dollars. This excludes boosters! As context, the largest fund for infectious diseases, the Global Fund, budgets just a third of this annually on malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined. Malaria kills over 380,000 people, mostly children, in sub-Saharan Africa every year. Over half a million die from tuberculosis. The Africa CDC records just 130,000 people in sub-Saharan countries dying from COVID-19 over 18 months, with under 50,000 in the 1.3 billion north of harder-hit South Africa, That’s just 1 in every 20,000 people.

Funding for this unprecedented campaign against a locally relatively benign disease comes partly from donor countries, many of whose economies have themselves contracted. Western taxpayers will provide finance that could otherwise support struggling businesses, or be directed to fight worse plagues such as malnutrition or malaria. Much of the remainder comes from loans that will indebt recipient countries for years, forcing austerity that will kill yet more. Meanwhile, the vaccine manufacturers are indemnified against harm – they and their wealthy investors can only gain from these deals that impoverish Africans. Nothing short of corporate colonialism.

This is not aid. It is not charity. It is an insult to the payers, and the intended recipients. Young mothers in Malawi and Burkina Faso whose malnourished children suffer repeated malaria do not require vaccinations against a disease predominantly impacting the over-weight in Western countries.

Equity, to the WHO and partners GAVI and CEPI, therefore appears to amount to sharing the risks of vaccination, adding debt and poverty, while ignoring the relative lack of benefit. A travesty of the concept of equity, and the sort of virtue signaling and double-speak that fits better in totalitarian dictatorships than organizations claiming to prioritize the world’s poor. It is hard not to envision the corporate colonial barons of two centuries ago, sitting in their paneled clubs carving up populations to maximize profit.

So COVAX is flawed policy. Focused vaccination of the highly vulnerable, where benefits outweigh risk, makes sense, but mass vaccination of these young populations does not. Is COVAX a well-intentioned hang-over from a panicked mind-set 18 months back? After pledges with much fanfare is it just too embarrassing to re-assess? Or is COVAX neo-colonialism laid bare – a stunning opportunity for profit and a path into the financial opportunities of vaccine passports and digital ID? Either way, it wreaks of shallowness in the health aid industry and those who run it, and the contradictions that arise within WHO with the increasing embrace of private money and influence displacing its egalitarian roots.

The noble words of WHO’s charter; “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, seem divorced from it’s current COVID-19 obsession. The internally-contradictory COVAX catch-cry “No one is safe unless everyone is safe” is a poor substitute. It only makes sense if all are at high risk (they are not), natural immunity does not work (it does) and vaccines don’t protect the vaccinated (they do).

COVAX, as mass vaccination of whole populations, is a threat to health and to the economies of low-income countries. An over-reaction in a time of panic is an understandable mistake, but maintaining course when harm clearly outweighs benefit becomes malfeasance. Equity is about health outcomes, not access to a particular vaccine. In the absence of a clear risk-benefit justification, COVAX is using taxpayer funding to promote a moral crime.

Publisher’s note: The opinions and findings expressed in articles, reports and interviews on this website are not necessarily the opinions of PANDA, its directors or associates.

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