The World Health Organization’s COVAX — an abbreviation for COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access — warned that “no one is safe, until everyone is safe,” yet colonial attitudes are an obstacle to reining in the global pandemic.
COVID-19 has shown that global equity and inclusion are necessary to manage global crises. A major lesson from this pandemic is the need to decolonize transnational governance so that the world is better able to handle both future and current global crises and issues.
COVAX’s naïve failure
COVAX has failed.
It was supposed to provide vaccinations globally and equitably as well as serve as a mechanism through which both rich and poor countries would access vaccines. More than 80 per cent of the population in rich countries is fully vaccinated, compared to less than 10 per cent of the population in poor countries.
COVAX is based on lofty ideals of equity and social justice. The initiative has been necessary to moderately balance the gap between rich and poor countries that would have fared worse had it not been launched.
But COVAX has been called naïve for relying upon the good will of rich countries for funding and on their willingness to wait patiently in line for their own populations’ doses.
COVAX’s good intentions have had to co-exist with “might is right” politics. Rich countries made their own deals and bought large amounts of vaccine supplies before they were even available.
Vaccine nationalism turned COVAX into a broker of charity. The colonial mentality believes it’s OK to cut deals with Big Pharma for vaccine doses ahead of populous poor countries, and to charitably donate to them their soon-to-expire leftovers.
Global capitalism as we know it emerged from a colonial world order set up for exploitation of people and lands. European countries kidnapped people from Africa and enslaved them as they dispossessed Indigenous Peoples. This created the extractive economy of today.
Racial classifications and racism have remained an enduring aspect of the modern world. Colonialism produced the initial and current gap between the rich and the poor world, and racialized the latter. When the mercantilist order of the colonial day morphed into capitalism in the 1800s, the colonial mentality that simply assumes European superiority remained.
This has been the basis for the colonial upper hand of the West and the United States in the type of transnational governance that emerged after the Second World War (the United Nations and Bretton Woods organizations, including the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank). This has also been the basis for the colonial mentality of today.
COVAX was conceived during the rich World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2020. As news of the virus emerged from China, two professional white men sipped whisky and envisioned COVAX in a Swiss ski resort bar.
Seth Berkley (CEO of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, or Gavi) and Richard Hatchett (CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI), heads of global vaccination networks, discussed pandemic scenarios. They knew the world would need a funding and distribution strategy for shots, so they started thinking about a global solution.
Hatchett wrote a white paper in March 2020 and those ideas were the basis for the creation of COVAX in April that year. All this sounds great, but colonial mentality ultimately prevented the success of their initiative. It stopped COVAX from emerging as the co-ordinator of sorely needed 21st-century solidarity.
Decolonizing crisis governance
People rarely hear the names of Berkley and Hatchett in the global public sphere. Berkley’s Gavi is a global vaccine alliance that brings together the public and private sectors. Hatchett’s CEPI describes itself as a “global partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organizations.”
Today, these two global organizations — supported by the World Health Organization — are dealing with the enduring pandemic. But their transparency and accountability have been questionable.
Gavi designed COVAX without oversight and “with a small group of like-minded advisors, primarily Global North philanthropists, academics, and consultants,” according to a Doctors Without Borders report. The perspectives of low- and middle-income countries, civil society organizations or regional disease control groups weren’t considered in a meaningful way.
At the same time, pharmaceutical industry representatives have had a seat at the table of major decision-making discussions, and this has helped maintain the status quo of their intellectual property rights.
The world needs to move beyond myopic national self-interest. It has become apparent that in order to control the COVID-19 pandemic, equity and inclusion are urgently required.
Scientists anticipate there will be new pandemics along with climate change crises. This will hardly be the last global public-health emergency.
Out of self-interest, transnational governance needs to embrace true solidarity. World leaders must use a decolonialized imagination to face these coming global challenges.
Monica Sanchez-Flores does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.disease control pandemic covid-19 vaccine testing africa european europe china world health organization
I’m headed to London soon for #EUBIO22. Care to join me?
It was great getting back to a live ESMO conference/webinar in Paris followed by a live pop-up event for the Endpoints 11 in Boston. We’re…
It was great getting back to a live ESMO conference/webinar in Paris followed by a live pop-up event for the Endpoints 11 in Boston. We’re staying on the road in October with our return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London.
Silicon Valley Bank’s Nooman Haque and I are once again jumping back into the thick of it with a slate of virtual and live events on October 12. I’ll get the ball rolling with a virtual fireside chat with Novo Nordisk R&D chief Marcus Schindler, covering their pipeline plans and BD work.
After that I’ve teed up two webinars on mRNA research — with some of the top experts in Europe — and the oncology scene, building better CARs in Europe.
That afternoon, we’ll switch to a live/streaming hybrid event, with a chance to gather once again now that the pandemic has faded. I’ve recruited a panel of top biotech execs to look at surviving the crazy public market, with Adrian Rawcliffe, the CEO of Adaptimmune, SV’s Kate Bingham, Mereo CEO Denise Scots-Knight and Andrew Hopkins, chief of Exscientia.
That will be followed by my special, live fireside chat with Susan Galbraith, the oncology R&D chief at AstraZeneca. And then we’ll turn to Nooman’s panel, where he’ll be talking with Katya Smirnyagina with Oxford Science Enterprises, Maina Bhaman with Sofinnova Partners and Rosetta Capital’s Jonathan Hepple about navigating the severe capital headwinds.
You can review the full schedule and buy tickets here and review everything we have planned. It will be a packed day. I hope to see you there. It’s been several years now since I’ve had a chance to meet people in the Golden Triangle. I’m very much looking forward to it.europe pandemic
We can turn to popular culture for lessons about how to live with COVID-19 as endemic
As COVID-19 transitions from a pandemic to an endemic, apocalyptic science-fiction and zombie movies contain examples of how to adjust to the new norm…
In 2021, conversations began on whether the COVID-19 pandemic will, or even can, end. As a literary and cultural theorist, I started looking for shifts in stories about pandemics and contagion. It turns out that several stories also question how and when a pandemic becomes endemic.
The 2020 film Peninsula, a sequel to the Korean zombie film, Train to Busan, ends with a group of survivors rescued and transported to a zombie-free Hong Kong. In it, Jooni (played by Re Lee) spent her formative years living through the zombie epidemic. When she is rescued, she responds to being informed that she’s “going to a better place” by admitting that “this place wasn’t bad either.”
Jooni’s response points toward the shift in contagion narratives that has emerged since the spread of COVID-19. This shift marks a rejection of the push-for-survival narratives in favour of something more indicative of an endemic.
Contagion follows a general cycle: outbreak, epidemic, pandemic and endemic. The determinants of each stage rely upon the rate of spread within a specified geographic region.
Etymologically, the word “endemic” has its origins with the Greek words én and dēmos, meaning “in the people.” Thus, it refers to something that is regularly found within a population.
Infectious disease physician Stephen Parodi asserts that an endemic just means that a disease, while still prevalent within a population, no longer disrupts our daily lives.
Similarly, genomics and viral evolution researcher Aris Katzourakis argues that endemics occur when infection rates are static — neither rising nor falling. Because this stasis occurs differently with each situation, there is no set threshold at which a pandemic becomes endemic.
Not all diseases reach endemic status. And, if endemic status is reached, it does not mean the virus is gone, but rather that things have become “normal.”
We’re most likely familiar with contagion narratives. After all, Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film Contagion, was the most watched film on Canadian Netflix in March 2020. Conveniently, this was when most Canadian provinces went into lockdown during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In survival-based contagion narratives, characters often discuss methods for survival and generally refer to themselves as survivors. Contagion chronicles the transmission of a deadly virus that is brought from Hong Kong to the United States. In response, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is tasked with tracing its origins and finding a cure. The film follows Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), who is immune, as he tries to keep his daughter safe in a crumbling Minneapolis.
Ultimately, a vaccine is successfully synthesized, but only after millions have succumbed to the virus.
Like many science fiction and horror films that envision some sort of apocalyptic end, Contagion focuses on the basic requirements for survival: shelter, food, water and medicine.
However, it also deals with the breakdown of government systems and the violence that accompanies it.
A “new” normal
In contrast, contagion narratives that have turned endemic take place many years after the initial outbreak. In these stories, the infected population is regularly present, but the remaining uninfected population isn’t regularly infected.
A spin-off to the zombie series The Walking Dead takes place a decade after the initial outbreak. In the two seasons of The Walking Dead: World Beyond (2020-2021) four young protagonists — Hope (Alexa Mansour), Iris (Aliyah Royale), Silas (Hal Cumpston) and Elton (Nicolas Cantu) — represent the first generation to come of age within the zombie-infested world.
The four youth spent their formative years in an infected world — similar to Jooni in Peninsula. For these characters, zombies are part of their daily lives, and their constant presence is normalized.
The setting in World Beyond has electricity, helicopters and modern medicine. Characters in endemic narratives have regular access to shelter, food, water and medicine, so they don’t need to resort to violence over limited resources. And notably, they also don’t often refer to themselves as survivors.
Endemic narratives acknowledge that existing within an infected space alongside a virus is not necessarily a bad thing, and that not all inhabitants within infected spaces desire to leave. It is rare in endemic narratives for a character to become infected.
Instead of going out on zombie-killing expeditions in the manner that occurs frequently in the other Walking Dead stories, the characters in World Beyond generally leave the zombies alone. They mark the zombies with different colours of spray-paint to chronicle what they call “migration patterns.”
The zombies have therefore just become another species for the characters to live alongside — something more endemic.
The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead (2015-), Z Nation (2014-18), and many other survival-based stories seem to return to the past. In contrast, endemic narratives maintain a present and sometimes even future-looking approach.
Learning from stories
According to film producer and media professor Mick Broderick, survival stories maintain a status quo. They seek a “nostalgically yearned-for less-complex existence.” It provides solace to imagine an earlier, simpler time when living through a pandemic.
However, the shift from survival to endemic in contagion narratives provides us with many important possibilities. The one I think is quite relevant right now is that it presents us with a way of living with contagion. After all, watching these characters survive a pandemic helps us imagine that we can too.
Krista Collier-Jarvis does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.disease control pandemic covid-19 vaccine spread lockdown transmission hong kong
Xi Reemerges In 1st Public Appearance After ‘Coup’ Rumors
Xi Reemerges In 1st Public Appearance After ‘Coup’ Rumors
So much for the "coup in China" and "Xi is missing" rumor mill of the past week,…
So much for the "coup in China" and "Xi is missing" rumor mill of the past week, which at one point saw Chinese President Xi Jinping's name trending high on Twitter...
"Chinese President Xi Jinping visited an exhibition in Beijing on Tuesday, according to state television, in his first public appearance since returning to China from an official trip to Central Asia in mid-September – dispelling unverified rumours that he was under house arrest."
He had arrived in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 15 - and attended the days-long Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit - where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others.
Importantly, it had been his first foreign trip in two years. Xi had not traveled outside of the country since before the Covid-19 pandemic began.
But upon returning the Beijing, he hadn't been seen in the public eye since that mid-September trip, fueling speculation and rumors in the West and on social media. Some pundits floated the idea that he had been under "house arrest" amid political instability and a possible coup attempt.
According to a Tuesday Bloomberg description of the Chinese leader's "re-emergence" in the public eye, which has effectively ended the bizarre rumors:
Xi, wearing a mask, visited an exhibition in Beijing on Tuesday about China's achievements over the past decade, state-run news outlet Xinhua reported. The Chinese leader was accompanied by the other six members of the Politburo Standing Committee, a sign of unity after rumors circulated on Twitter about a challenge to his power.
He'll likely cinch his third five-year term as leader at the major Chinese Communist party’s (CCP) meeting on October 16. The CCP meeting comes only once every half-decade.
Taking notes of all the big accounts spreading rumors of coup in China, put on a list pic.twitter.com/BHVFCPD7pU— Carl Zha (@CarlZha) September 24, 2022
What had added to prior rumors was the fact that the 69-year old Xi recently undertook a purge of key senior security officials. This included arrests on corruption charges of the former police chiefs of Shanghai, Chongqing and Shanxi.
More importantly, former vice minister of public security Sun Lijun and former justice minister Fu Zhenghua were also sacked and faced severe charges.
Zhenghua was given a suspended death sentence following a bribery conviction. The sentence comes amidst a strict anti-corruption crusade by Chinese Premier Xi Jinping.https://t.co/nwLxknJNVn— nasim raza (@razanasim3) September 22, 2022
Concerning Sun Lijun, state media made this shocking announcement a week ago: "Sun Lijun, former Chinese vice minister of public security, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve for taking more than 646 million yuan of bribes, manipulating the stock market, and illegally possessing firearms, according to the Intermediate People's Court of Changchun in Northeast China's Jilin Province on Friday." The suspended death sentence means he'll spend life in prison.
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