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More than just a jab – the ethics of the vaccine

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COVID vaccine One billion vaccine doses – a drop in the ocean?

There is nothing our current Prime Minister likes to do more than play Father Bountiful – even if he does give the impression of someone who is much happier writing cheques, than he is honouring them. No matter, he chose to kick off the G7 summit with a promise to donate 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to poorer countries in the next year.

US President Biden has already allocated 500 million doses of vaccine to go to 92 lower income countries. More initiatives are expected over the next few days, with the G7 economies likely to commit to donating an eye-catching billion doses to the less well-heeled economies.

It’s a gesture that begins to look less generous when one considers how sharp-elbowed, richer nations have been in procuring their stock of jabs. ‘Vaccine nationalism’ saw the UK secure for itself no less than 340 million shots – or five doses for every citizen. Some of this is excessive good fortune. We placed a lot of bets, seemingly all of which came in. But redressing the balance is a priority, ethically and self-interestedly in a globalised world. Apart from anything else, allowing the virus to flourish away from our backyard is a recipe to create stronger and deadlier variants.

Among those not impressed by the G7 response has been the doughty figure of ex-PM Gordon Brown, who argues that rather than handing round the begging bowl,
rich nations need a comprehensive plan to help poorer ones produce 11 billion doses. It’s a persuasive argument with little public traction, but that might change. The big lesson of COVID is that horrible problems in faraway places can very quickly become our own, when we fail to pay attention.

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