We, Dutch people, are good at building dikes and at water management. And we are undoubtedly good at a few other things as well. But when it comes to managing the Corona crisis, we are not doing too well. Plans keep continually changing. At first it was not considered necessary to close elementary school, but later it was deemed essential. While in many countries the wearing of masks was considered an important measure to reduce the spreading of the virus, it took months before in our country this decision was reached–at first along the lines of “even if it doesn’t help, it doesn’t hurt”, but at long last as an obligation in all public places.
Initially the testing did not run as smoothly as in many other countries, and there was a lot of wrangling over which groups of the population should be tested first. Now that we have embarked on the vaccination program, the government’s strategy once again often remains rather foggy. Admittedly, the government should not get all the blame, as circumstances have changed from time to time. For example, deliveries of the vaccines-in particular of AstraZeneca-are not following the original schedule.
Predictably, there is now a lot of discussion about the order in which the various target groups should be vaccinated. I must confess that I fervently hope that the category to which I belong — people aged 75 and over, with some underlying medical issues — will be vaccinated very soon. This will be a group that is to be vaccinated by GPs and I hope that, in the opinion of my GP, there are sufficient medical reasons for me to be included in the cohort of the vulnerable over-75s. (After that, I prefer to forgo that qualification again.)
It is, of course, a good thing that people who work in hospitals are first in line. And no one will deny that elderly people in nursing homes are so vulnerable to the virus that they should also be high on the priority list. And that general practitioners themselves should be given priority is certainly also defensible. But doesn’t the same apply to people in education? However, a clear strategy has so far been hard to detect. I sometimes feel sorry for Mr. Hugo de Jonge, the cabinet minister who is responsible for the difficult Corona portfolio. After all, there are a great many organizations that must be consulted, and that want to have their say, and it seems that there are now close to 17 million experts in immunology living in the Netherlands.
There are unpleasant aspects to the manner in which various groups (and sometimes individuals within those groups) argue that the category to which they belong should definitely be given priority. But it is probably unavoidable that there will be strong competition when the demand for a product greatly outstrips its supply. However, this aspect has additional nasty consequences when it comes to the international distribution of the available vaccines that are now approved or in the process of testing and certification. Unfortunately, it appears that the rich countries have made sure that they are the first to be served. This means that many countries outside the affluent West will for the time being receive only very limited supplies of vaccines. Fortunately, some funding is being made available to help these countries in footing the bill, and some pharmaceutical companies have decided to sell to these countries at cost.
As I look at these issues, I am increasingly convinced that some crucial processes in society should be in the hands of the government. I am thinking particularly of the pharmaceutical industry. The development and distribution of medicines should, in my opinion, not be left to the “free” market. And if that sounds to many ears too “socialist”, then I would, at the very least, plead for an international agreement that demands that in real emergency situations the pharmaceutical companies must release their recipe for a vital product (with reasonable compensation), so that such a medicine can be manufactured cheaply on a large scale, anywhere in the world where it can save lives.
Unfortunately, it seems that we, in the West, are still disinclined to see human lives in the developing world as equally valuable as our own. And this, of course, also raises the urgent question of why the Christian Church is not constantly bringing this issue to the attention of government leaders. After all, it is a manifestation of the love for our neighbor–nearby and far-way–that belongs to the very core of Christ’s teaching.