At a time when Britain is at last reaching the threshold for domestic herd immunity and beginning the long journey of economic recovery, it is perhaps smart to look beyond our borders to the global havoc that Covid-19 is continuing to wreak and reassess the role that Britain should play in the post-pandemic world.
Over the past year and a half, the phrase “We’re all in this together” has echoed every policy turn, setback and exit strategy proposed. On the one hand, it is a wholly inaccurate slogan for the pandemic: Covid-19 has starkly exposed inequality both domestically and globally. On the other hand, it has value as a prescriptive statement: the road to recovery relies on global cooperation. We must help those in need, revitalise the world economy, and re-establish the UK’s position as a leader economically, diplomatically, and in the domain of global health.
Whilst Brits and other citizens of wealthy countries have the privilege to indulge in anti-vaccine conspiracy theories or push for vaccine passports that will enable them to resume their rich social lives, many countries are yet to even begin vaccination and workers are still dying whilst providing care to those who have tested positive. For this reason and a multitude of others, it is essential that we do not neglect the plight of those in poorer nations as we revel in our return to normalcy. Importantly, this is not meant simply as an emotive plea to help the poor and disadvantaged, but as a critical appraisal of the current direction of global policy.
On Wednesday last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with his Commonwealth counterpart President Uhuru Kenyatta to announce the United Kingdom’s donation of 800,000 vaccines to Kenya. This signifies the beginning of the UK’s commitment to provide 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to the world’s poorest counties, a pledge made at the G7 summit in June, 5 million of which aim to be delivered by the end of September.
Vaccine inequity has been at the top of development practitioners’ agendas since before the first vaccine had even achieved success and few of sound morals can deny the inherent merit of striving for a fair global vaccine rollout. Despite the UK’s and other wealthy nations’ commitment to donate a substantial volume of surplus vaccines however, one of the major sources of stagnation in addressing global vaccine equity is protectionist economic policies. This said, bold donations from wealthier countries do not address underlying problems or present a long-term solution.
Those countries with the means to do so should be distributing vaccine manufacturing capacity across the world to ensure global resilience and negate the logistical challenges of wide-scale delivery. Importantly, this is not a mission that can be undertaken alone, but one that will require deep cooperation between wealthier nations. The pandemic is providing an unprecedented opportunity to reassess our global health infrastructure and a platform from which we can create resilient systems for readiness in the future. In doing so, we must address the inequity which underwrites the pre-existing structures of global health management.
Commendably, the United Kingdom has already begun to seize the opportunity to lead in this ambitious challenge, having committed hundreds of millions of pounds to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) vaccine procurement scheme and made plans to host a global summit on accelerating vaccine manufacturing in 2022. Nevertheless, more must be done to address the deep flaws within national and global governance arrangements.
In contrast to the symbolic vaccine diplomacy of China, which is entrenched with soft-power messages, it is imperative that the newly sovereign United Kingdom, alongside other international leaders, develops its capacity for mobilisation across borders and works in partnership with its allies. This will allow Britain to strengthen Western and other bilateral relations, provide a bulwark against future global health crises and capitalise on global recovery.
Current estimates suggest that 70 per cent of the world’s population need to be vaccinated to build herd immunity, which requires 11 billion doses of a two-dose regimen. Global herd immunity will not only change the trajectory of the pandemic, but it will be an integral part of the global economic recovery.
In fact, the International Chamber of Commerce warns that the global economy stands to reach potential losses of $9.2 trillion if governments fail to ensure vaccine access to poor countries and according to the WHO, this effect will be “lasting and profound”. Evidently, collective action is urgently needed to promote vaccine equity and mitigate further avoidable socio-economic impacts.
Of course, recovery hinges upon countless extraneous variables, one of which is the possible emergence of new variants, but for now wealthy countries must jettison their myopic policies to establish a more resilient world. After all, whilst it may sound overly realist, such nations stand to benefit enormously from a global economic upturn.