Should the UK lead the charge to jab the globe?
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Many thought the world had seen the worst of the coronavirus.
But images from India this week prove the crisis is far from over: funeral pyres burning by the side of the street and doctors weeping behind their masks.
As humans our instinct is to do what we can but when coronavirus vaccines are now the globe’s most valuable commodity it is understandable that governments will want to protect their own.
But if the past twelve months have taught us anything it is that global suffering and disease has ramifications far and wide.
Former chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown has already called on the G7 to begin donating their excess vaccines and additional funding to countries which are currently being left behind.
He said: “To reach the greatest number of people in the shortest time across the widest geography, the G7 must lead a herculean mobilisation to bring together the proven skills of global pharmaceutical and logistic companies, national militaries, and local health workers.”
And according to health research foundation the Wellcome Trust, the UK has 113 million doses of vaccine it could potentially – at some stage – spare.
However the impacts of such policies are not purely humanitarian – the impact of not having vaccination across the world has the potential to bring global supply chains to a halt. And that will impact everyone – including East Anglia.
This is the crisis the world is now facing, according to Ayobami Ilori, an applied macro economist at the Open University.
“There are two reasons why we need a co-ordinated effort not only to vaccinate but also to continue coronavirus and immunisation research,” he said.
“The first is that you can never stop travelling. Whether it’s for tourism or to supply goods there will always be people moving around the world.
“The second is that if we don’t have a co-ordinated approach we will continue to see variants popping up across the globe which we don’t know about before it’s too late. In my opinion that’s where we went wrong at the beginning of the pandemic – we didn’t know enough about the virus to be able to mobilise research in how to tackle it.
“The combination of movement of people and variants would simply see a vaccine being created and rolled out before another variant comes along.”
He added: “The economic argument for why we should strive for global vaccination reflects this. Global supply chains stand to be broken if the situation in India continues at the rate it is going. Look at what happened in Egypt with the Ever Green – one ship got stuck and whole chunks of the global economy ground to a halt.
“My point is that although India is one country – and a huge one at that – if their labour force begins to slow then many, many industries will be impacted. India is the third largest pharmaceutical supplier by volume in the world and could have a big impact on global medicine supplies.
“Although iPhones and other handsets are often assembled in China a lot of the parts come out of India. If confidence wobbled around pharmaceuticals and tech this could then have a knock-on impact on the stock market with investors trying to cover their risks.
“That’s before you start looking at the impact on the workforce if we were to lose the skilled immigration labour from the likes of India and Nigeria.
“So when you look at whether or not Britain can afford to support a global vaccination programme and research the answer is yes – because it’s not about supporting other country’s economies it’s about supporting our own businesses with supply chains overseas in the medium and longer term.
“We would be walking into high street stores and seeing stocks empty – we’re used to great volumes of cheap items without appreciating a lot of them come from countries like India.”
He was backed up by East Anglian GP Richard West, senior partner at Woolpit Health Centre, who said: “Viruses don’t believe in borders.
“Even if we vaccinate ourselves, if nobody else vaccinates then the virus will continue to circulate.
“The more Covid that is circulating, the more likelihood that you are to get a mutation.
Dr West said he suspected that annual vaccinations against coronavirus would be needed, but he added that this was something the NHS could manage.
“It would affect us in terms of vaccination programmes,” he said. “It will be something that comes up in the winter and goes down in the summer.
“If we get an outbreak, like with any other infectious disease, then it becomes extremely difficult to manage and extremely hard work.”
Politics and negotiations aside, more vaccines mean more certainty, according to accountancy firm Larking Gowen’s partner Chris Scargill.
The head of the East Anglian-based specialist tourism, leisure and hospitality team, said: “What it comes down to is people want to feel safe. They want to feel that they can travel to a foreign country and not catch the virus, they want to welcome tourists and know that they are not carrying it.
“I think from our perspective how quickly our NHS mobilised our vaccine rollout means that we appear very safe to foreign travellers. Inbound tourism usually equates to about £29bn but unfortunately for East Anglia most of that goes to London.
“But I do see that changing. We have a lot of accessibility here thanks to airports like Norwich and Stansted, and you can hop on a ferry to ports like Harwich. But for the next few seasons I think more people will stop off in Norfolk and Suffolk thanks to our wide open spaces – which feel safer – instead of rushing down to big cities.”