Science And Justice

Pandemic Divide

Bharat Dogra

In a widely appreciated report published very recently on November 7 The Washington Post has presented the case of a hospital in Washington which used to pride itself on the entire staff being like a family. However on the issue of COVID 19 vaccine the staff of this hospital, including highly experienced and very dedicated employees, have been split 50-50. One senior staff said that COVID Vaccine is ‘absolutely necessary’, another stated that its imposition is ‘medical tyranny’.

This report titled The Vaccine Countdown and written by Eli Saslow has described the deep anguish of long-serving hospital staffers, who had been reputed for several years to go out of their way to serve the hospital and patients with deep commitment, as they prepare to leave the hospital. At the time of writing this report, several had already quit, many others had applied for exemption from COVID vaccine while others faced service termination orders within a few days for their continuing opposition to COVID vaccine. In this hospital those opposing COVID Vaccine have been implementing-- carefully, happily and successfully---other vaccines in the past; their opposition has only been to recent COVID Vaccine impositions.

The case of this hospital reflects the deep divide in several societies around the world, including those societies where the percentage of educated sections is very high. Surely the medical staff of a hospital in the USA cannot be accused of being not adequately informed on the subject of pandemics. Cases of opposition to COVID vaccine being quite high among medical staffers, the frontline warriors, have in fact been reported from several societies in several media reports. Those opposing fast spread of COVID vaccines include some of the top scientists in this field, including those involved in inventing the platform technology for these vaccines, a fact which has been sought to be hidden by linguist deception which refers to even the most well-reasoned oposition to COVID vaccines by senior scientists ( or others known for their protection of public health concerns and for their principled opposition to various serious health hazards in the past) as ‘ disinformation’.

At this point one needs to seriously ask why this issue has become so divisive. The response of world to any pandemic should be based on science and evidence on the one hand and justice and democracy on the other hand. Both aspects are important. People should be able to find the best, most effective and safest treatment and protection options as early as possible, and then ensure that all people of all countries have access to them. It is extremely important to be completely free of any private profit motive and other narrow motives (such as using a crisis to gain excessive control of health sector and options). Everything should be done in the most transparent way. The world should be willing to cope with the crisis situation with complete honesty, in the spirit of a world community acting with complete cooperation.

Ideally it should be possible to assemble the world’s best available experts on the issue, not just those occupying top positions in hierarchy but those actually known for their real scientific work, to first prepare a draft policy within a week or so on the basis of the best available information. This would be available to all countries for initial guidance but in addition this draft will clearly say that some changes are likely to be made soon once additional information is available. The additional information needed urgently should be identified very carefully and again using the best expertise, efforts should be made to collect the information within two weeks or so. These two weeks will also be used to get the comments of independent experts and governments from all over the world which would be examined carefully by the group which prepared the original statement. All the comments would be placed in the public domain. On the basis of comments received and additional information, some more experts will be included in the original group. They would then prepare a final policy statement, providing also the detailed reasoning and data behind this policy. This would be available for guidance to all governments, and while this policy will not be compulsory for any government, those who adopt different policies will be expected to provide equally detailed reasoning for this and this too will be in the public domain. The pandemic will be carefully monitored in all countries and latest information will be placed in the public domain. Based on this the policy guidelines of the main international group can be revised from time to time.

On the basis of this system decisions regarding treatments, precautions and protections will be taken. Any medicines and vaccines that are agreed to on this basis will be made available to all governments at a price based just on cost of production and a very modest, transparent margin. The payment for technology development and innovation will be made by an international organisation. For example if a company develops an effective drug or vaccine for the pandemic, it will receive a certain payment, a good lump-sum payment, to cover its costs and profits and after this the drug or vaccine will be free to be made by anyone. All such products will be examined carefully for safety and effectiveness using well-established, standard mechanisms and all clearances, acceptances, rejections, payments will be made transparent. The system will be such that innovators will get significant one-time reward, but will have to accept responsibility for effectiveness and safety.

One main concern should be to get rid of all possibilities of the pandemic response being guided by those who seek to make super profits from it. A chain of billionaries is arising from the ruins of ordinary people in the current situation. The wealth of billionaires has increased never as much before as during the pandemic—5000 billion dollars during 2020-21. Many of these booming fortunes are linked quite closely to COVID response. Authoritarian regimes and billionaires linked to them have been able to think up new forms of authoritarianism and even new ways of ensuring public acceptance of them during the pandemic wave. This should stop and the pandemic response should be based entirely on scientific evidence, democracy, transparency and justice.

[The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children, Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.]

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Vol. 54, No. 24, Dec 12 - 18, 2021