Assuming that there will ever be an effective vaccine against COVID-19, we need to anticipate ahead of its release that there is going to be a limited supply at first. Like anything, vaccines are subject to the forces of resource scarcity, meaning that sooner or later, the world will run out. Sure, in time, more will be produced, but deciding who gets to be at the front of the queue when the first wave of vaccinations is released will be tricky at best, and potentially genocidal at worst.
I make no apologies for asserting that in the worst-case scenario, a botching of vaccine distribution could amount to a genocidal act. With all of the attention focussed on race-relations at the minute, it would be politically difficult to do, but it is by no means beyond the realms of possibility. Putting that to one side, the question still remains: Who gets the vaccine first?
The first thing we have to consider is that these vaccines are being produced by private companies. Therefore, an astoundingly high price can be charged for it, making already wealthy investors potentially billions of dollars in additional wealth. How we share that around, given that there will not be vaccines for everyone from day one, is difficult.
We have already seen a similar rendition of this issue play out before our eyes in the shortages of tests. It took the United Kingdom a lot longer than the government thought it would to reach their tests-per-day goal, will it be the same with testing? We are going to see countries scrambling like cats chasing a mouse to secure a sizable batch of vaccinations for their citizens – which could go as far as upsetting the current geopolitical ‘equilibrium’ (loathe as I am to call it that).
With the 2020 Presidential Election upcoming, incumbent President Donald Trump would love nothing more than to vaccinate the whole United States and hail himself as the saviour of the American people – even if that comes at the expense to citizens of other countries. He has already tried to pre-emptively purchase a German company working on a vaccine to ensure the U.S. has first dibs, as well as the power to hand vaccines out to compliant allies at their own leisure. He certainly won’t be the only world leader trying to do that. Every country will be looking to their leader to fight their corner; to secure them the vaccines; to save their lives.
Although, even when a country secures a score of vaccines, it will not cover the entire population. Who is forced to wait? Do we go for the Titanic method (women and children first)? Do we prioritise frontline health workers over young children? What about pregnant women? What about the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions? How will we determine what political figures are given priority? Can the rich cut the queue?
All of these questions and more will need to be answered in some form. If your primary objective is to get the economy back to 100% capacity, then you should probably look at prioritising those who have to get out and work in public-facing roles (meaning not the rich, not the young, not the elderly). If your primary concern is to be a humanitarian, then it is probably best that you go with the Titanic method. Either way, many people in need of the vaccine, will be waiting.
Back to the global picture, I am reminded of the 2011 film Contagion, in which a pandemic destroys the world, killing millions. Later in the film, when the vaccine’s production is nearly completed, a rural Chinese terror group kidnaps a prominent World Health Organisation official and holds her ransom for vaccines, claiming that the white and wealthy countries will be at the front of the queue and that their community will be overlooked and left to die.
This is not beyond the reaches of reality. Whether terror groups would form is perhaps seems a bit far-fetched, but if the resource became so scarce and a second peak began to emerge, people may take to extreme measures to secure safety for their children, family and community. This article can offer no answers, but only asks questions; important questions, for my money. A vaccine could only be the start of major problems both internationally and in each nation across the globe. It has the potential to drudge up race, class and gender inequalities in the most tremendously antagonistic circumstances, as well as drawing stark differences between political leanings in an already polarised and tribal political climate.
There remains one final group in society who are yet to be considered; the Anti-Vaxxers; those who do not want a vaccine. Whether it be fears around developing autism (entirely discredited) or worries that Bill Gates will be poisoning their blood, this small subsection of society will deny the scientific evidence, deny the safety of themselves and their families, and deny the world the right to feel entirely comfortable in the knowledge that COVID-19 is eradicated. These people will obviously go to the back of the queue, but there are questions hovering over whether we should mandate these people to receive the vaccine. Is that right? Should we prioritise the safety of the group over the choice of a few, especially when those few are basing their opinions off of entirely discredited science? There are hundreds of questions arising from the possibility of a vaccine. That said, you would undoubtedly rather wrestle with these issues than face the alternative; a world with no vaccine.
I invite you to use the comments feature below this article to let me know if you can see a viable solution to this timebomb.