Time to think about vaccine equality

Comment & Opinion

A LONG WAY TO GO The Covid-19 vaccine roll-out has only reached two percent of the continent of Africa. Pic: istock

WITH the autumn leaves falling and our highways and byways beginning to empty of tourism traffic, it is time to take stock. There is time now to reflect on how we have fared during a pandemic that turned our lives upside down; made our certainties uncertain; challenged our value system; created a new normal.  
As the evenings begin to close in, fires are being lit, children are back at school and there is a refreshing sense of the familiar creeping back into our lives.
Social, cultural and educational doors that were closed – pubs and restaurants, cinemas and theatres, schools and colleges – are reopening with increased confidence as the vaccine roll-out reaches completion and there is an acceptance that this pernicious virus is under control. Whilst it is set to become an endemic part of society’s disease DNA, the level of hope here in the developed world has been inspiring courtesy of pharmaceutical research and development and our medical experts.
However, haven’t we all a responsibility to espouse and support vaccine equality across the globe? This should not be only from the selfish perspective that the virus will keep mutating if allowed run free through the poorer populations of the world.  
Imagine, if we were all still waiting on the vaccine as we headed in to this winter. Well, that is what is happening to millions of people across the  continent of Africa, for example. Professor Chris Fitzpatrick, the HSE’s clinical director of vaccinations in the Dublin-Midlands Hospital Group, recently put it in a redolent perspective in an Irish Times column.
He reminded us that Mayo native, Dr Mike Ryan had told a webinar of Irish doctors over the summer that vaccine inequality was ‘grotesque’. He also referred to the UNICEF advertisement, which is voiced by the Irish actor Liam Neeson and urges us to: “Get a Vaccine, Give a Vaccine”. So far this donation drive, which is underscored by the reality that ‘nobody is safe until everybody is safe’ has helped to deliver 1,804,066 vaccines. With our support, UNICEF plans to deliver two billion Covid-19 vaccines ‘to the most vulnerable families, health workers and at-risk people on our planet’.
Isn’t it so important to remember that vaccine roll-out has only reached two percent on the continent of Africa?          
Moreover, the comparison that should resonate most for us here in Co Mayo is Prof Fitzpatrick’s reference to the gesture made by the Choctaw Indians in 1847, as this county, and the western seaboard, was ravaged by the Great Famine. It was not long after they were forced to leave their traditional homelands and embark on the ‘Trail of Tears’ that the people of their little nation donated $170 for famine relief in Ireland. The gesture by these generous people has often been recalled over the years at the annual famine walk from Doolough to Louisburgh. This evocative story tells the tale of how impoverished peasants walked the eleven miles to Delphi Lodge in dreadful weather at the end of March 1849 in search of grain but were turned back empty-handed by the Poor Law Guardians. Some of them never made it home, their emaciated bodies found along the boggy pathway.
That Ireland may now be the stuff of stories told in museums and history books but it continues to be a real and lived experience for many others in colonised and war-torn countries where corporate exploitation to feed and satiate the needs of our privileged world is also rife.
We are proud of our humanitarian reputation. As a people, we often recall how we rose above our dispossession and repression.
Last week our little nation was named the best in the world for Covid resilience in the monthly Bloomberg ranking scale. The news agency stated that Ireland had been ‘steadily climbing’ the rankings since the beginning of 2021, when it had experienced the worst outbreak in the world.
As autumn progresses and winter approaches, it is surely time to pat ourselves on our backs for what Paul Reid, the Chief Executive of the HSE, deemed ‘a coherent and cohesive response’ to ‘really tough times’.
There will be time too to think of others who are less fortunate than us and to make a small gesture for an important campaign for equality.