From a Reader:

American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People’s Lives!

COVID Vaccine Distribution—A World of Obscene Inequality



Humanity faces a massive global crisis: 190 million cases of COVID-19 and over four million deaths worldwide—and counting. The virus knows no borders and spreads misery and suffering in its wake. After devastating Europe and the U.S. in 2020, a brutal surge began in India, Brazil, and other countries.

A global crisis of this magnitude cried out for a global all-hands-on-deck response. In an amazing feat of scientific breakthrough, highly effective vaccines were developed and brought into production—having the potential to protect billions of people on the planet from this deadly scourge and dramatically set back the ability of the virus to spread throughout the world’s population. And yet...

The nightmare continues and deepens. Under the brutal inequalities of capitalism-imperialism, the system which dominates the planet, the vaccine has been bought up and hoarded by the hundreds of millions of doses in the U.S. and other wealthy countries while the virus surges in country after country in the global South—from Tunisia to Namibia to Haiti and Indonesia and beyond. And far less than 10 percent of the population has been vaccinated in many of these countries.

From the very beginning of the all-out efforts to develop vaccines, the U.S. and European countries wielded the economic and political power they have gained through exploiting billions of people throughout the world and made direct deals with the pharmaceutical companies. Many months before the vaccines were even approved, the U.S. had bought up 800 million doses, enough to vaccinate 140 percent of its own population, while the United Kingdom bought up enough for 225 percent of its population. One-half of all vaccine doses have gone to the wealthy countries that make up only 19 percent of the world’s population.1

Meanwhile, COVAX, a global organization, was ostensibly set up to prevent exactly this kind of hoarding as doses of the vaccine started to become available to the world. But despite its stated “goal to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines,” COVAX itself became the very vehicle through which the gross workings of imperialism have further enforced these global inequalities. COVAX was dependent upon the imperialist powers as the major source for its funding, which was intended to then provide free access to the vaccine for countries that were not in a position to pay for it. But in order to even cement this arrangement, the U.S. and European countries forced through a deal requiring COVAX to reserve one in five doses for these wealthier countries as they became available—before they could be made available to countries who couldn’t pay for vaccines. This was on top of the doses that had been purchased directly in advance by these countries from the pharmaceutical companies.

Production of the vaccines has remained largely in the hands of industrialized countries. This is due to the fact that the “intellectual property rights” of the imperialist-based vaccine manufacturers have been maintained by the imperialists as a condition of the rapid-fire development needed to produce the vaccines. This form of monopolization, together with imperialist domination and licensing of the technology needed to produce the vaccines, leaves huge swaths of the world population at the mercy of the imperialist countries to dole out the vaccine after their own needs are filled.

The result is a glaring disparity in vaccination rates around the world. For example, while over 48 percent of adults in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated, according to the New York Times only about 1 percent of people in Africa have been fully vaccinated. And COVAX projects it will take until October to deliver enough doses for just 7 percent of the population of Africa. Many basic frontline health care workers have not even had the opportunity to become vaccinated. Death rates are beginning to soar in several countries in Africa.

While Biden has made a show of donating 500 million doses to COVAX, this is merely a drop in the bucket of the world’s urgent need. The World Health Organization has estimated that 11 billion doses are needed worldwide to stamp out the pandemic.

This is nothing less than an ongoing death sentence for hundreds of thousands of people in the oppressed countries—people who count for nothing in the calculations of the imperialists. And as the virus continues to rage unchecked in dozens of countries, the danger grows of even more infectious variants of the disease emerging that could cause further devastation throughout the world.

These obscene inequalities shine a light on the hideous nature of a world dominated by U.S. imperialism. It is a tremendous thing that the scientific understanding exists to enable humanity to take on the extreme global threat that this pandemic represents, and yet the death grip the imperialists hold on the world prevents a rational approach to actually using that scientific knowledge to take on this threat in way that actually benefits humanity.

For the masses of people, for humanity as a whole, there is truly no future worth living under this system.


1. Meanwhile, a massive surplus of vaccine doses sits in the U.S., unused because hundreds of thousands of Americans are caught up in grossly anti-scientific thinking and conspiracy theories and refuse to get vaccinated. Because of this, the virus continues to spread, endangering the lives of many thousands, and overwhelming the health care system and health care workers. This is one extreme expression of the individualism that Bob Avakian has identified as the product of parasitism—the fact that the entire U.S. economy and way of life is built on the super-exploitation of masses of people, including children, in the oppressed countries. (For more on this, see Hope for Humanity on a Scientific Basis: Breaking with Individualism, Parasitism and American Chauvinism, by Bob Avakian.) [back]

There is a glaring disparity in vaccination rates around the world. More than 48% of adults in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated, according to the New York Times, but only about 1% of Africans have been fully vaccinated. Here in Kampala, Uganda, people wait to be vaccinated, May 10. Photo: AP

One-half of all vaccine doses have gone to wealthy countries, which make up only 19% of the world’s population. Here, people in India line up for vaccine during a surge in cases and. deaths, April 2021. Photo: AP

BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian is a book of quotations and short essays that speaks powerfully to questions of revolution and human emancipation.

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