In Ukraine, the Covid departments are now crowded. The health system is on it toppling. The race for vaccines is beyond the country: for the time being, the country has to do with only one hundred thousand vaccines for the more than 40 million inhabitants.
Close to the front of the still festering war in Eastern Ukraine lies the village of Severodonetsk. Here, doctor Boris Shishin runs the local hospital. It‘s bulging out of the coronation patients. Many patients are forced to share a room.
Shishin even had to transform the children’s department into a covid department:
Shishin sees the numbers of contaminants fall, but no hope of it. “The numbers are falling because we run fewer tests, people don‘t want to get tested anymore.”
Only 22% of hospital beds reserved for coronapatics have oxygen, says Lotta Sylwander, Unicef’s local representative. “People die here by bushes.” The vaccines should provide light at the end of the tunnel, but Ukraine is unable to compete in the global race for vaccines.
Ukrainian health minister Maksim Stepanov saw with dismay how rich countries had massive vaccines to vaccinate their own populations. “Some countries have bought more vaccines than they need. We live in such a world.” And in such a world, the poor Ukraine cannot offer a match. Vaccination nationalism in the West means that poor countries have to wait longer and longer for their vaccines.
Covax, an initiative of the WHO, among others, has to distribute vaccines, but the huge competition and hoarding in the West mean that Covax can only donate vaccines.
‘Waiting until 2023’
Canadian Professor Steven Hoffman is worried about it. Western countries prioritize their own population under great political pressure. But that‘s a pandemic unproductive, says Hoffman. “Viruses don’t have passports, we can‘t stop them at the border. That’s why it will improve our health if the rest of the world is healthy.”
The idea behind the COVAX mechanism is that all countries can obtain larger quantities of vaccines faster and cheaper if they are collectively purchased. But in practice rich Western countries chose to buy on their own, creating a run on vaccines. The rich countries now have their hands full with vaccines, while the countries that depend on Covax have to wait a long time.
If this continues, some poor countries will have to wait until 2023 before their populations are largely vaccinated. “The pandemic will last longer due to the lack of international cooperation,” says Hoffman. “Poor countries will have to wait even longer for their vaccines. In these countries, new mutants may emerge, which will then threaten the whole world again.”
According to Hoffman, the fastest way out of the pandemic is through Covax. “Countries must invest in Covax. The rich countries must commit themselves to the objective of not only providing their own population with vaccines, but also countries that may not be able to afford it. It is unacceptable that we now ask some countries to postpone the vaccination programme until 2022 or 2023.”