“The past 12 months have been extraordinarily difficult, full of anxiety, grief and loss. The Covid-19 pandemic has put a massive strain on health systems, created a global economic crisis and pushed millions into poverty.
However, there is now a glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel. Thanks to investment in science and research we have a vaccine.
The humanist approach to life, as the outcome of a long tradition of free thought, gave rise to science itself. And we should celebrate the pivotal role of scientific research in dealing with this pandemic.
As Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “Everyone has the right…to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” However, as has been the case throughout this pandemic, we are concerned about equitability. There is a very real danger that many of the world’s poorest and most marginalized will be left behind while each country rushes to secure vaccines for their own populations.
When the HIV/AIDS pandemic emerged 40 years ago, the high cost of lifesaving drugs meant they were not available to the developing world until a decade after their use by rich countries. Today we see wealthy states arranging bilateral deals with pharmaceutical companies and stockpiling more doses of vaccines than necessary. History is in danger of repeating itself. If every nation were to take such a self-serving approach, it would be self-defeating. We are a connected world and we all need to be safe for any of us to be safe. The attitude of vaccine nationalism is the antithesis of a humanist approach to public policy.
We welcome the recent resolution from the parliamentary body of the Council of Europe calling for COVID-19 vaccines to be made a “global public good”, and urge governments to take note of the recommendations contained therein for making the global equitable distribution of the vaccine a reality.
Another issue to contend with is that of vaccine hesitancy, whereby people who are offered the vaccine refuse to take it under the belief that the vaccine may be unnecessary or unsafe.
This is not a problem unique to COVID-19. The anti-vaccine movement, fuelled by anti-establishment populism, has eroded the public’s trust in public health institutions. As a society, we need to work to rebuild trust in science, which is the building block for progress.
Rather than stigmatizing those who express doubt, we should seek to address the marginalisation that causes people to turn to conspiracy theories. Being open with information on side-effects, potential risks and effectiveness is essential to rebuilding trust in public bodies and countering misinformation.
To quote the Amsterdam Declaration: “Science gives us the means but human values must propose the ends.”
We have the means, now it is up to us all as a global community to use compassion and solidarity – not nationalism or selfishness – to determine how we use it.”
On 13 January 2021, our Advocacy Officer Lillie Ashworth blogged about ethical and human rights concerns related to global vaccine distribution and how “vaccine nationalism’ impedes equitable access for all.