From the start, Covid-19 was a global issue. We soon learned that a pandemic does not stop at national borders, certainly not in an age when every day millions of people travel by air. New variants of the virus need only days to spread to distant places. When a few days ago, two planes from South-Africa brought some 600 passengers to Schiphol airport, fear for the omicron variant prompted the Dutch authorities to have all incoming passenger extra tested. 61 of them tested positive, of whom 13 brought the new variant with them.
It becomes clearer every day that we will not bring the pandemic to a halt by restrictions in our own country or our region of the world, however necessary they may be. Even through the debate about the longer-term effectiveness of the vaccines continues, there is considerable consensus among experts that our best hope of mastering the virus is world-wide vaccination. In a number of the “rich” countries of the world the vaccination rate is encouraging and it has been shown that vaccinated people—although they may now need a “booster” shot—are much less likely to become seriously ill or to die from Covid than those who, for whatever reason, have not (yet) been vaccinated. The vaccination rate in most of the poorer countries of the world is lagging far behind that of the more affluent nations. In a few African countries to date no one has yet received the anti-Covid jab. The international UN-sponsored COVAX organization continues to lament the slow response of most richer countries in providing the funding to assist the 92 nations to combat the pandemic.
Giving repeated thought in the past few days to this problem, I began to wonder why it is such a problem to pay for those vaccines for every person in poorer parts of the world. Of course, I have no claim to any expertise in this domain, but simple arithmetic brought me to some tentative conclusions. Please follow me:
The first question is, of course, what a global vaccination project would cost. Let’s assume the population in the poorer countries amounts to 2 billion people. This means that (including a booster shot) the project would require 6 billion doses. This very week, the Belgian under-minister of health gave information about the cost of the various vaccines. The prize varies from € 1,78 for Astra-Zeneca to € 18,00 for Moderna, with BioNtech/Pfizer in between at € 12,00. So, let’s settle on a medium price of € 10 per shot. Thus, the bill for the vaccines for these 2 billion people would about to 60 billion euro.
Last week I heard an expert say in a talk-program on TV that the actual costs for a large-scale vaccination program in a developing country would be far more than just the costs of the vaccines. It also involves the cost of needles and all other materials that are required. These countries would need help in setting up the necessary organization, and probably a large number of people to administer the program. The expert suggested that there would probably have to be at least an additional amount equal to the costs of the vaccines. Ergo, our budget would rise to at least 120 billion euro. Realizing that international projects always go over budget, I suggest that we add another 30 billion, making a total of 150 billion euro.
An amount of this size frightens us all and, understandably, national governments prioritize national challenges. However, it is in the direct interest of their own populations to help halt the virus everywhere in the world. And, seen from a global perspective, funding such a project, even to the tune of 150 billion euros, seems perfectly doable.
This morning I read in my newspaper that a global lock down—which is a real risk if we fail to act adequately—would amount to a monthly economic loss of 375 billion euro.
And, compare this 150 billion euro to the global military spending which presently stands at over 2 trillion dollars, with the USA with 778 billion dollar as the biggest spender!
If 150 billion dollars is split between the richest countries, the bill for the Netherlands would perhaps be 5 billion euro. But, let’s be generous, and say that the Netherlands could be responsible for 10 billion euro. Spread over 2 years it would be an annual contribution of 5 billion euro, which happens to be the same amount as the Dutch people spent last week on extra shopping during Black Friday (the stupid craze that we have imported from America!). And 5 billion is only about 1,5 percent of the Dutch national annual budget.
I may have overlooked many factors—as I already stated, I have no expertise in this area. It seems to me, however, that it would be very much in the interest of the “richer” countries to support the COVAX program in a much bigger way than they presently do. But, there is another, perhaps even more important, reason to enable poorer countries to vaccinate their populations. Human beings ought to manifest solidarity with their fellow human beings,in particular in times of serious crisis. And, therefore, we must do all we can to ensure that people everywhere can be protected as best as possible against the current pandemic.
For Christians, it should not require an extra push to convince them that global solidarity is a basic principle of the Christian religion. Religious leaders should, therefore, be on the forefront in urging national and international civic leaders to make a global vaccination program possible. And some denominations may even be able to contribute in a concrete way in providing personnel and even some funding. The Adventist Church with its worldwide health system may not be able to assist with a large dollar amount (although a world-wide income of more than 2 billion dollars should perhaps leave some petty cash), but can contribute a lot of expertise and make a significant number of medical personnel available. It would be great to see that happen.
PS. It should be mentioned that ADRA is already active in many countries in relief efforts in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic.