A People’s Vaccine Against a Mutating Virus and Neoliberal Rule
by Nicolas J. S. Davies*
A recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that worries about the
COVID pandemic in the United States are at their lowest level since it began. Only half of Americans are either “very
worried” (15%) or “somewhat worried” (35%) about the virus, while the other
half are “not very worried” (30%) or “not worried at all” (20%).
news from around the world makes it clear that this pandemic is far from over,
and a story
highlights the nature of the danger.
a COVID success story, with one of the lowest rates of
infection and death in the world. Vietnam’s excellent community-based
public health system prevented the virus from spreading beyond isolated cases
and localized outbreaks, without a nationwide lockdown. With a population of 98
million people, Vietnam has had only 8,883 cases and 53 deaths.
more than half of Vietnam’s cases and deaths have come in the last two months,
and three-quarters of the new cases have been infected with a new “hybrid” variant
that combines the two mutations detected separately in the Alpha (U.K.) and
Delta (India) variants. Vietnam is a canary in the pandemic coal-mine.
The way this new variant has spread so quickly in a country that has defeated
every previous form of the virus suggests that this one is much more
variant must surely also be spreading in other countries, where it will be
harder to detect among thousands of daily cases, and will therefore be
widespread by the time public health officials and governments respond to it. There
may also be other highly infectious new variants spreading undetected among the
millions of cases in Latin America and other parts of the world.
study in The
Lancet medical journal has found that the Alpha (U.K.), Beta (South Africa) and
Delta (India) variants are all more resistant to existing vaccines than the
original COVID virus, and the Delta variant is still spreading in countries
with aggressive vaccination programs, including the U.K.
variant accounts for a two-month high in new cases in the U.K. and a new wave of infections in Portugal, just as
developed countries ease restrictions before the summer vacation season, almost
certainly opening the door to the next wave. The U.K., which has a
slightly higher vaccination rate than the United States, had planned a further
relaxation of restrictions on June 21st, but that is now in question.
Vietnam, New Zealand and other countries defeated the pandemic in its early
stages by prioritizing public health over business interests. The United
States and Western Europe instead tried to strike a balance between public
health and their neoliberal economic systems, breeding a monster that has
now killed millions of people. The World Health Organization believes that six to eight million people have died, about twice as many
as have been counted in official figures.
Now the WHO
is recommending that wealthier countries who have good supplies of vaccines postpone vaccinating healthy young people, and instead
prioritize sending vaccines to poorer countries where the virus is running
Biden has announced that the United States is releasing 25 million doses from
its stockpiles, most of which will be distributed through the WHO’s Covax
program, with another 55 million to follow by the end of June. But this
is a tiny fraction of what is needed.
also agreed to waive patent rights on vaccines under the WTO’s TRIPS rules (the
Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), but that
has so far been held up at the WTO by Canada and right-wing governments in the
U.K., Germany, Brazil, Australia, Japan and Colombia. People have taken to the
many countries to insist that a WTO TRIPS Council meeting on Tuesday and
Wednesday, June 8-9, must agree to waive patent monopolies.
the countries blocking the TRIPS waiver are U.S. allies, this will be a
critical test of the Biden administration’s promised international leadership
and diplomacy, which has so far taken a back seat to dangerous saber-rattling
against China and Russia, foot-dragging on the JCPOA with Iran and
war-crime-fueling weapons-peddling to Israel and Saudi Arabia.
international vaccine apartheid is not just a matter of altruism, or even
justice. It is a question of whether we will end this pandemic before
vaccine-resistant, super-spreading and deadlier variants fuel even more toxic
new waves. The only way humanity can win this struggle is to act collectively
in our common interest.
Public Citizen has researched what it would take
to vaccinate the world, and concluded that it would cost only $25 billion – 3%
of the annual U.S. budget for weapons and war – to set up manufacturing plants
and distribution hubs across the world and vaccinate all of humanity within a
year. Forty-two Progressives in Congress have signed a letter to President Biden to urge him to fund such a
world can agree to make and distribute a People’s Vaccine, it could be the
silver lining in this dark cloud, because this ability to act globally and
collectively in the public interest is precisely what we need to solve so many
of the most serious problems facing humanity.
example, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) is warning that we are in the midst
of a triple
climate change, mass extinction and pollution. Our neoliberal political
and economic system has not just failed to solve these problems. It actively works to undermine efforts to do so, granting
people, corporations and countries who profit from destroying the natural world
the freedom to do so without constraint.
That is the
very meaning of laissez-faire, to let the wealthy and powerful do whatever they
want, regardless of the consequences for the rest of us, or even for life on
Earth. As the economist John Maynard Keynes reputedly said in the 1930s,
“Laissez-faire capitalism is the absurd idea that the worst people, for the
worst reasons, will do what is best for us all.”
Neoliberalism is the reimposition of 19th century
laissez-faire capitalism, with all its injustices, inequality and oppression,
on the people of the 21st century, prioritizing markets, profits and wealth
over the common welfare of humanity and the natural world our lives depend on.
and Princeton political theorist Sheldon Wolin called the U.S. political system,
which facilitates this neoliberal economic order, “inverted totalitarianism.” Like classical
totalitarianism, it concentrates ever more wealth and power in the hands of a
small ruling class, but instead of abolishing parliaments, elections and the
superficial trappings of representative government as classical totalitarianism
did, it simply co-opts them as tools of plutocracy, which has proved to be a
more marketable and sustainable strategy.
that neoliberalism has wreaked its chaos for a generation, popular movements
are rising up across the world to demand systemic change and to build new
systems of politics and economics that can actually solve the huge problems
that neoliberalism has produced.
to the 2019 uprising in Chile, its rulers were forced to agree to an election
for a constitutional
draft a constitution to replace the one written during the Pinochet
dictatorship, one of the vanguards of neoliberalism. That election has
now taken place, and the ruling party of President Pinera and other traditional
parties won less than a third of the seats. So the constitution will instead be written by a super-majority of
citizens committed to radical reform and social, economic and political
which was also swept by a popular uprising in 2019, a new government seated in
2020 has launched an investigation to recover $150 billion in Iraqi oil
revenues stolen and smuggled out of the country by the corrupt officials of
into Iraq on the heels of the U.S. invasion in 2003 “with empty pockets to
fill,” as a Baghdad taxi driver told a Western reporter at the time. While
U.S. forces and U.S.-trained Iraqi death squads destroyed their country, they
hunkered down in the Green Zone in Baghdad and controlled and looted Iraq’s oil
revenues for the next seventeen years. Now maybe Iraq can recover the stolen
money its people so desperately need, and start using its oil wealth to rebuild
that shattered country.
In Bolivia, also in 2019, a U.S.-backed coup overthrew its popular indigenous
president, Evo Morales. But the people of Bolivia rose up in a general strike to demand a new election, Morales’ MAS
(Movimiento al Socialismo) Party was restored to power, and Luis Arce, Morales’
former Economy Minister, is now Bolivia’s President.
world, we are witnessing what can happen when people rise up and act
collectively for the common good. That is how we will solve the serious
problems we face, from the COVID pandemic to the climate crisis to the terminal
danger of nuclear war.
Humanity’s survival into the twenty-second century and all our hopes for a
bright future depend on building new political and economic systems that will
simply and genuinely “do what is best for us all.”
*Nicolas J. S. Davies
is an independent journalist, a researcher for CODEPINK and the author of Blood
On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. Article sent to
Other News by its author.