"There is a greater moral obligation to ensure the protection of the rest of humanity and helping those who are most at risk."
When is something an act of self-preservation, and when is it a demonstration of unbridled greed?
The question gets complicated when we move from individuals to nations —specifically prosperous, supposedly progressive ones looked upon as global leaders.
More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, several pharmaceutical companies have developed vaccines against the dreaded disease, and inoculation programs have begun in many countries. More than 3.35 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been injected in at least 216 territories around the world, according to a count by Agence France-Presse.
The progress of such programs, however, vary greatly from place to place, the main cause being access to the vaccines determined by how wealthy and influential the procuring country is.
In high-income countries, 86 doses have been injected per 100 inhabitants. Among the 29 lowest-income countries, just one dose has been given per 100 inhabitants.
Worse, there is now talk of booster shots for populations already substantially covered by basic protection. This is a reasonable idea given the emergence of new variants everywhere, but it is almost unconscionable when taken with the fact that many vulnerable sectors in developing nations, the ones who cannot afford treatment and whose hospital systems are likely inadequate, are barely protected against the virus.
This has prompted the World Health Organization’s chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to say that vaccine nationalism is preventing the world from ending the pandemic, and that the greed of rich nations will cause the world to look back on itself with shame.
He took to task vaccine manufacturers, specifically Moderna and Pfizer, for exploring booster deals with relatively better-protected nations; they should, instead, channel the supply to the Covax global facility to make the distribution gap less glaring.
The leaders of rich nations do right by their people in wanting to provide even greater protection to them in the form of booster shots. But such is only secondary to the greater moral obligation to ensure the protection of the rest of humanity and helping those who are most at risk.