The Guardian • Issue #1953


Socialist and capitalist response to COVID-19 and vaccinations


Eileen Whitehead

Now more than ever is probably a good time to look at the difference in responses between socialist and capitalist countries in order to appreciate their completely different philosophical approaches to society. The political (mis)management of this pandemic is a clear indication of the total contempt for the working class in those countries controlled by capitalist countries. Their “mantra” of “herd immunity” and encouragement to live with the virus was simply to keep people working and making profits.

Although the virus was first identified in Wuhan, in China, the World Health Organisation and Chinese investigators’ findings were that the virus was likely to have been active outside the Wuhan market for weeks before cases were first detected. The team considered the possibility of the virus being present in other regions or countries before the first cases were reported in Wuhan. However, the virus’s zoonotic origin remains a mystery, with investigators finding no clear link to bats, pangolins or other wild animals. Still, more samples are to be taken from felines and other species.

For over twelve months, this pandemic has raged throughout the world, bringing the US-led capitalist system to its knees, resulting in the most intense research and fastest rollout of a vaccine in recorded history! Not because the capitalist system is concerned about the high numbers of deaths from this virus but because it has to get workers back into production in support of profits. It’s interesting to consider that, so far, the countries with the highest number of deaths have been the ones with the most resources and wealth.

The proud institution of the NHS in the UK has been constantly cut to the bone and/or privatised by the neoliberals – both Labour and Conservative – and its current inadequacies have been plain to see during this pandemic. The British Medical Journal called its governments’ attitude “Social murder.”

American health care inequality is so class-based it’s ludicrous: the higher your income, the better your health. America is the only developed country that relies soley on private health insurance. Before the Affordable Care Act, around twenty per cent of Americans had little or no health insurance, so unsurprisingly, the death toll from COVID-19 is now above 500,000. But the American ruling class and its friends in the pharmaceutical industry will make billions, which is of far greater importance than a “few” lives. Again – unsurprisingly – the ruling elite does not consider the deaths of the American people worth using its huge wealth to allay: its resources are only there to support its wars, not its people.

Trump’s half measures in response to the pandemic were no worse than Johnson’s bumbling response, with both representing political systems exploiting the working class. So, if this is typical of their attitude to the health and welfare of workers and the poor, can we expect any sign of equality when it’s time to roll out vaccinations? For once, there was only praise for the Australian Federal government of Scott Morrison, who actually listened to the medical experts and threw millions of dollars in support of the financial system and thereby, the workers.

Now we’re seeing what is being called “vaccine apartheid,” where ten rich countries – the US, Canada, Western European countries and Australia – have taken seventy-five per cent of all vaccine doses, while 130 other countries have not received a single dose. Wealthy nations are hoarding most vaccines and denying them to poorer nations. It is the US/UK against Europe, rich people against poor people, white against people of colour – a racist vaccine pyramid where wealthy western whites are at the top of the food chain, and the non-white poor developing countries are always at the bottom. The rich countries (fourteen per cent of the world population) have purchased over fifty per cent of the vaccine supply.

So, why are western countries overbuying vaccines? It has been suggested that it’s to control the vaccine market monopoly scheme to control the price, as on the futures trading market, “excess” vaccines can then be sold to poorer countries for political ransom or a higher price. That’s capitalism, for you!

When the coronavirus began to circulate, several African countries had one ventilator even though health professionals, having experienced previous virus epidemics, knew it was just a question of time before another, more severe strain would surface globally. But years of austerity have seen increased poverty and homelessness, increased infant mortality and shortened life expectancy. Poor countries have been unable to spend on health systems, e.g. in South Africa, sixteen per cent of the population with private health care, is served by seventy per cent of the country’s doctors.

According to the website “Our World in Data,” China and Russia were amongst the first countries in the world to vaccinate people. By the 15th of December, 2020, at least 1.5 mil Chinese had taken a jab, compared to the US and UK, who also began their vaccination campaigns in early December but had only vaccinated around half a million people by the 15th of December. The point made here being that, in both these countries governed by a powerful capitalist and conservative elite, it is always more important to spend trillions on defence forces, wars and tax cuts for big business than service the health industry for the people.

So far, China is leading the world in the number of fully vaccinated people or who have at least received the first jab. According to the Chinese media, as of the 23rd of January, 2021, nearly 16 mil had taken a jab, closely followed by the number of people vaccinated in the US; but as of the 9th of February, China had administered 52 mil doses, (slowed because of the Chinese New Year holiday); the US 75.2 mil, the UK 20.9 mil, and 1.87 mil in Canada.

According to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, by mid-February China had donated vaccines to fifty-three developing countries including Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan, and Palestine. It has also exported vaccines to twenty-two countries; in addition, they launched research and development cooperation projects with more than ten countries. Also at the WHO’s request, China will contribute 10 mil doses of vaccines to COVAX.

China and the US face very different situations. At the current rate, the US could vaccinate its population in six months; many estimate that China with 1.4 bil people will take up to two years to fully vaccinate its population. However, because of its very effective anti-pandemic strategy with its very low COVID infection rate, experts believe that, unlike the US, China does not need to rush for full vaccination in order to achieve the goal of “herd immunity.” Its main concern now is acting to prevent any new outbreaks of the virus.

A new imperialist weapon against other countries is what is called a vaccine blockade, where western economies prevent countries without US dollars or bank wire transfer power from buying vaccines. US illegal sanctions against Iran have prevented that country from purchasing life-saving PPE, medical equipment and now vaccines because they do not have access to US dollars (the common currency for international trade) or international wire transfer service: basically international wire transfer needs SWIFT code, which is controlled by the US.

Lee Siu Hin: National coordinator of National Immigrant Solidarity Network, believes that “progressive activists from anti-racist, community, peace and social justice movements around the world are increasingly critical of the giant corporate pharmaceutical companies in western countries for engaging in racism and vaccine imperialism against communities of colour within their countries and poor countries across the globe.” Lee, along with many communists around the world, are calling for a more affordable and equitable distribution of vaccines to all those remaining survivors.

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