The unseemly dispute between the European Union and AstraZeneca over the supply of the Covid-19 vaccine just about sums up everything that is both wrong and rotten about the system, aka capitalism.
In a rational world, where public health and wellbeing came first, a global pandemic would be met with a universal, planned response. Vaccines would be distributed on an equitable basis and a mutually-agreed strategy put together.
Global corporations operating as mutually-owned enterprises funded socially in place of giant shareholder-owned, for-profit pharmaceuticals would work for the public good.
For example, Italy and South Africa have similar-sized populations of around 60 million. The World Health Organisation or similar would take charge of getting the same doses to each country at more or less the same time.
Instead of this pleasant dream, the nightmare continues. “Vaccine nationalism” has taken hold across Europe in particular while poorer nations have gone to the back of the queue.
Given free rein by the neoliberal EU, pharmaceuticals like AstraZeneca owe no government or nation any favours. Theirs is a contract-based business, with a classic, first-come, first-served approach.
No matter that the vaccine was developed by Oxford University scientists with over £65 million of public money, its distribution is another matter. So, on the one hand, science can develop a vaccine, while on the other, individual capitalist states fight each other over supply and the corporations laugh all the way to the bank.
The sordid affair is symptomatic of the shambolic response to the pandemic in states besotted by market-led “solutions”. In the UK, public agencies like Public Health England and local government have suffered from extraordinary levels of cuts over the last decade.
In a list of 20 countries compiled by John Hopkins, the UK lies sixth in terms of deaths per population size, with more than 100,000 victims over the last 13 months. Many could have been avoided, as Prof Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, points out, if the Tory government had shown a modicum of competence.
Undoubtedly, gross social and racial inequalities have also contributed to the shocking death toll. Many low-paid workers have had to go out to work in dangerous conditions because the alternative was no food on the table at home.
As a consequence, they have suffered disportionate numbers of deaths which work-from-home professionals have largely avoided. Many poorer workers have also been hit hardest financially speaking.
Meanwhile, the 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their COVID-19 losses within just nine months, reveals a new Oxfam report.
Yes, the system is rotten right through. If you didn’t know that before the pandemic, you certainly do now.