A Vaccine For All
It is no understatement to say that the pandemic has rocked the global economy severely, sending shockwaves around the world, be it the most prominent places like The White House or most isolated ones like the Sentinelese Islands.
Even though it is impossible to ever quantify the pain and agony of those who came under its fold, losing livelihood, lives or both, numbers do paint a fair picture for us to analyze its ramifications. Global death toll has passed the one million mark and the total reported cases touched a staggering 40.2 million (as on October 19, 2020). As per the data released by the private think tank ‘Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’ (CMIE), around 6.6 million white collar professionals have lost their jobs in India during the course of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, thus washing away all employment gains accumulated since 2016.
Among the salaried class, 5 million industrial workers lost their only source of livelihood where most of them were sole bread earners of the family. Beyond economy and business, the outbreak has also penetrated social structure and clearly, it doesn’t discriminate whether you are the most powerful man on earth or a homeless tram.
Preventive measures like social distancing, quarantine, wearing a mask all the time, following government advisory and avoiding daily excursions is a luxury only a few can afford. For a poor man who can hardly arrange two square meals a day, the trade off becomes either getting infected by the virus or simply dying due to starvation and he is forced to step out to avoid the latter.
These harrowing numbers are enough for us to realize that we are in an urgent need for a vaccine, more than ever before. Before divulging into the wonders that an effective vaccine can do, one should know what renders a vaccine its effectiveness. Vaccines work on a principle of “Prevention better than cure”, acting as a method of protection against the virus, thus reducing the chances of individual and community transmission.
On a psychological level, it provides an assurance to the individual that they are safe from the grasp of the deadly virus, thus making them abort the constant fear of getting infected and mental helplessness that usually surrounds such a situation. It would also etch a trajectory towards economic recovery by saving up on the crores of rupees spent on relief packages, economic stimulus and formation of new ad-hoc health institutions across the country. These benefits have motivated many Nobel laureates and global personalities to sign an appeal to declare the COVID-19 vaccines as a ‘Global Common Good’.
This means that eradication of Coronavirus is beneficial to all and can only actualise when everyone has access to the vaccine, whenever developed. It also prohibits commercialisation by any one country or corporation or medical body in the form of patents or copyrights that could possibly hamper it’s availability in different parts of the world. A question that often rings in the upper echelons of the capitalist society is whether it is wrong to capitalise on a vaccine that was developed after innumerable hours of hard work and spending millions on scientific research
The argument doesn’t focus on whether it is morally permissible to do that or “should one prioritise money making over benevolence”. Rather, one should closely observe the underlying patterns of the outbreak at various places. Social distancing and quarantine go for a toss in cramped spaces like Mumbai’s Dharavi and similar colonies resulting in active breeding grounds in these slums and ghettos. One can’t isolate oneself from the world, even if we metaphorically choose to believe so, daily interactions with inhabitants of these active breeding grounds happen all the time. This poses a greater threat of multiple, complex intertwined chains of transmission being created, possibly snowballing into a second wave.
Hence, even on a pragmatic level (sans any moral judgement or anti-capitalist rhetoric), it makes more sense to vouch for increased accessibility of the vaccine in order to render it any sort of usefulness. Its effectiveness in a raging pandemic is not derived from individual consumption but from accessibility to masses, breaking chains of transmission and saving on the exorbitant amount of money that goes into hospital bills, medicines consumed or worse, death.