Politics

Kevin McKenna: In fighting vaccine capitalism, Gordon Brown is giving us his best days

NOTHING has defined Gordon Brown as much as his words and actions since the start of the Covid pandemic. Until then, following his departure from the office of Prime Minister in 2010, Mr Brown had largely been associated with assorted pressure groups favoured by the scarecrow element of the Unionist cause.

Mr Brown’s 27-year career at Westminster was conducted at or near the apex of British politics, eventually disintegrating in a depressing three-year stint as Prime Minster. In those arid, listless days, he seemed to cut a King Lear figure surrounded by the wormtongues and scufflers who comprised the desiccated remnant of the New Labour chimera.

Yet perhaps now, shorn of Westminster’s blandishments and accoutrements and with no prospect of earthly reward, he is living his best days. Perhaps all that had gone before was building towards this time. Since the start of the pandemic his has been a lone voice crying in the wilderness advocating for truth and justice as humanity confronts its greatest challenge.

Not long after the Covid vaccines went into mass production Mr Brown was urging the affluent west to ensure that the world’s poorest countries had access to them. Underpinning the simple compassion of this option for the poor was a harder economic one: that to deprive these nations of vaccines was to risk creating the conditions for coronavirus to feast and mutate. Put simply, our greed and inhumanity would reap a shape-shifting whirlwind whose name, for the present has changed to Omicron.

In September, Mr Brown stated that we had a duty to provide relief to those in the Third World trapped within the west’s endless economic blockade. The west, he said, had amassed a vaccine horde of almost 300 million shots while only 70 million Africans had been vaccinated.

That vaccine gap has since increased. Less than 10% of Africans have been vaccinated. Global health charities estimate that, unless we move to end this inequality, it will take another 18 months for all Africans to be offered their first shot. In contrast, G7 countries will have almost 1.5bn surplus doses by the first quarter of next year.

Mr Brown’s messages highlighting the obscenity of stockpiling vaccines have all been dutifully reported, yet never make the front page or the headline news. Inevitably, his warnings have fallen upon rocky ground.

The global pharmaceutical companies who had quickly cornered the market on vaccines continued to be mesmerized by the added billions on their year-end accounts and simply refused to share the formulas for their patents.

Mr Brown’s unheeded warnings are now menacing us. In an interview with the BBC World Service last week, he predicted that a further five million people could die from the effects of Covid worldwide if rich countries didn’t enable poor nations to access more vaccines.

“It’s a stain on our global soul and it affects us all,” Mr Brown said. “Because I think people are beginning to realise that if we allow the disease to spread in poor countries and the virus mutates, it comes back to haunt even the fully vaccinated.”

Mr Brown’s latest intervention came following numbers released by the People’s Vaccine Alliance which convict the west of a vast crime of inhumanity. European Union countries, as well as Britain and the US, have now received more vaccine doses in the last six weeks than African nations over the course of 2021.

According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance western governments are “trapping the world in an endless cycle of variants, boosters, restrictions and even lockdowns” are the inevitable consequence of low vaccination rates in poor countries.

The world’s 2,000 billionaires have more money between them than 60% of the planet’s population. The historic patterns of avarice that permit such inequality to proceed can be seen in the present behaviour of the pharmaceutical companies.

The founders of firms such as Pfizer and Moderna became billionaires overnight as vaccine production went into overdrive. The profit projections of these companies are expected to break records. Yet, they persist in refusing to share their vaccine recipes freely to ease the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people. Western governments have come nowhere near delivering the promised number of vaccines to poor countries.

Mr Brown’s campaign to end vaccine inequality is consistent with his historic efforts to advocate for Third World debt relief. Before the pandemic, historic debt was the favoured instrument of global capitalism to suffocate the economies of poor countries. One of its chief torture devices is the Vulture Fund by which western countries and their global business partners feed on the deeply discounted debt of economically distressed nations with the sole intention of recovering it at its original value by using legal hit squads.

They can afford to wait years for judgment and almost always win. Their average rate of recovery can be up to 20 times their initial outlay and will include all arrears and penalties. They refuse to participate in any debt re-structure programmes that might diminish the value of their ‘investments’.

The most depraved example of this came decades previously in South Africa when the apartheid regime bequeathed crippling levels of debt to the new government following years of irresponsible lending by the World Bank and the IMF.

We fall back on casual racism to explain why Africa remains poor yet this continent has all that’s required to build a sound economy: resourceful people; vast mineral resources and boundless courage in the face of adversity. The west though, and the global financial elite that it shelters have been picking Africa clean for centuries. The last thing they want is another competing economy. Denying them vaccines is merely the latest means of enslaving them.

The world’s richest and most powerful nations accept that we are in the midst of a global emergency. If they all so desired it, they could temporarily nationalise all the means of vaccine production and roll them out equally across the planet. Any big pharma executives who failed to cooperate could have their assets sequestered. Until this happens we will be imperiled by coronavirus for a while yet.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

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