As more people in the U.S. and the UK receive the Covid-19 vaccine and merrily repopulate restaurants, bars, and theaters, we are witnessing a terrifying and incompatible scene in India, where thousands of people are left to die as Covid-19 cases surge. While President Biden recently declared his support for waiving intellectual property rights for the vaccine, it could still take months to get a consensus of countries at the World Trade Organization to actually sign a waiver plan.
Why are world leaders sitting in the bureaucracy of this process when they know that millions of people will die while they debate whether it’s worth saving them? First of all, these actions are only to be expected of a colonial legacy that treats poor nations as primitive and disposable. Rooted in the perceived inferiority of non-“Western” peoples, these policies reveal a dangerous logic that Western expertise, values and lives are inherently superior.
Second, the capital greed driving big pharma to fervently push against the waiver emphasises their entitled prioritisation of profit over saving individual lives. Vaccine developers refuse to disclose how much money the vaccine is generating, even as they have already accumulated billions of dollars. Such secrecy shines an ugly light on the potential guilt behind these companies’ actions, as the ethical argument to share information is indisputable. However, a partner at Pfizer complained that the miraculous feat of the industry even creating the vaccine is “all being forgotten relatively quickly now.” This statement betrays the deeply classist and colonialist narratives behind pharmaceutical companies’ work, that people should be focused on their gratitude to companies hoarding profit. This is a disturbingly effective way of gaslighting and silencing those simply demanding equitable access to it.
While a couple hundred people profit off of thousands of deaths in the global south, we have to wonder how the perpetual protections of corporate interest by our governments directly leads to the demise of the most vulnerable populations. This sets a terrible precedent for the global cooperation needed to combat climate change, and if anything betrays how rich countries will behave during future climate crises, which while predominantly generated by those same rich countries, will be a larger burden on countries without the money and technology to combat them.
[Image description: A graphic says “Take Action for a People’s Vaccine” with a large map of the world beneath, that says “Rich countries will get access to coronavirus vaccines earlier than others” highlighting when widespread coverage will be achieved for each part of the world.]
As our companies exist in the global sphere, working with employees from across the world, it becomes our responsibility too to push forward an agenda of information sharing and cooperation. You can take action here to join in the campaign for The People’s Vaccine, which aims to break up pharmaceutical monopolies and provide global vaccine access as a human right.