- by Anna Pha
- The Guardian
- Issue #1968
Around the globe, COVID-19 in its various mutations continues to spread, with the health systems of many developing nations unable to cope and vaccines in short supply. Big Pharma’s monopoly on the technology, vaccines, and ingredients is the major barrier to defeating the virus.
The health crisis in India continues, with thousands of new cases every day. A new and even more dangerous mutation, Delta Plus, has emerged there. Sally Cutler, a microbiologist from the University of East London, described it as “a Beta mutation that is believed to help the virus dodge neutralising antibodies – a vital part of our immune system’s defences.” It has appeared in South Africa as well, where the health system is also overwhelmed with COVID cases.
Delta Plus is also believed to be more transmissible than Delta.
Efforts by South Africa and India to gain a temporary waiver of the COVID-19 vaccine patents and related intellectual property at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have so far failed. The US initially opposed the waiver but has since supported it. The European Union also initially expressed opposition. The EU and other WTO member countries including Australia, Brazil, Britain, Japan, Norway, Singapore, and South Korea have requested more time to analyse the proposal before adopting a position thoroughly.
There isn’t time. They must act now. Millions of lives depend on it. Vaccines should be in the public domain and not sold for profit. The Australian government should support and lobby hard for the waiver as a basic act of humanity.
These rich nations are playing with people’s lives. Every new mutation raises the risk of a strain that is resistant to existing vaccines. The Australian government’s ad calling on people to be vaccinated, sums up the situation: “No one is safe until everyone is safe.”
It cannot be emphasised enough how dangerous the rich countries’ stand on protecting patents is. Vaccines should be freely in the public domain, for any country that wishes to produce them to have access to the technology, production methods and ingredients. Sharing of these basics would enable South Africa, India, and other countries that have the capacity to produce the vaccines.
SOLIDARITY & COOPERATION
Cuba is sending thirty million doses of vaccine to Venezuela, and Vietnam is sending twelve million. These poor countries are demonstrating the solidarity necessary to tackle and defeat COVID-19, despite their poverty. China and Russia have also assisted Venezuela and other countries with vaccines and equipment.
What did the US do? It tightened its illegal blockades of Cuba and Venezuela, even denying the entry of life-saving essentials such as syringes and medication.
In Australia, the highly contagious Delta strain of COVID-19 has brought to the fore shortcomings in handling the pandemic and vaccine rollout as state and territory governments scramble to contain the virus. Only seven per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates of any industrialised nation.
Still there are no dedicated quarantine facilities, just talk of building one in Victoria and one in Queensland for operation early next year. Hotel quarantine is not a suitable alternative. Prime Minister Scott Morrison believes in miracles but saying “it is not a race” will not bring on a miracle.
Throughout the pandemic the federal government has lacked leadership. The public are growing weary of all its failed projections for vaccinating the population. Targets have been replaced by “horizons,” an apt term for its promises which, like a horizon, are always in the distance.
GAPS IN THE SYSTEM
The Delta strain entered the community via a driver who was transporting an airline crew working for a private company. He was not vaccinated and possibly did not wear a mask. A police investigation found he had not breached any regulations! An embarrassed state government had to move to change that situation.
When the Delta strain began to spread in Sydney, the Berejiklian Coalition government failed to take fast, appropriate action to isolate it. Instead, it imposed lockdowns in four local government areas with confusing and contradictory messaging about how they applied. The virus had popped up in locations across Sydney, including outside the lockdown areas.
That approach might have worked with earlier strains, but the Delta strain is significantly more transmissible than earlier variants and requires faster and sharper action.
The federal government should ensure that teachers, aged care workers, quarantine, transport, and other frontline workers are vaccinated as a priority.
Only last week the government decided to mandate vaccinations for workers in the vulnerable aged care sector and quarantine staff. But making vaccination mandatory on its own is not good enough. These workers need paid leave, not only to attend a vaccination centre or GP but to take time off if they are hit with side effects.
JobKeeper should never have been withdrawn. It should be reinstated so that businesses affected by lockdowns can draw on it to pay their employees.
The government failed to offer the people of Australia a choice of vaccines, which it should as soon as possible.
Either patents and the monopoly control Big Pharma have are relinquished, or humanity faces a grim future. The rich countries are not safe keeping it to themselves. Solidarity between nations is the only way forward for the whole of humanity. And time is running out.