Editor’s note: Roberto Izurieta is director of Latin American Projects at George Washington University. He has worked in political campaigns in several Latin American countries and Spain, and was an advisor to Presidents Alejandro Toledo, of Peru; Vicente Fox, from Mexico, and Álvaro Colom, from Guatemala. The author is also a contributor to CNN en Español. The opinions expressed here are solely his.
(CNN Spanish) – Covid-19 has been a tragedy for public health and the world economy. A virus that brutally attacked humanity. If the process was natural, this has been a tragedy; if it was a laboratory accident not disclosed in time to contain the problem it would be a criminal act. The delta variant, and the conditions that allowed its appearance and meteoric rise, that is, in the opinion of this political scientist, criminal negligence, since it should have been prevented by the collective of our governments.
The incredible scientific development achieved by humanity has allowed the design and development of multiple highly effective vaccines, several of them produced using innovative technologies. But this miracle of science has not been enough to stop the pandemic. Why? In developed and rich countries the vaccine has abounded, you can walk today to any pharmacy in any city in the USA and a pharmacist will approach to offer you the vaccine without an appointment. Numerous wealthy families from developing countries are bringing their children to be inoculated in the US, where vaccines are in abundance, but only half of the total population in this country is vaccinated. The reason? At least in part it is because of the shamelessness of US politicians who have used opposition to vaccines and the mandatory use of masks as a political flag to attract votes from people more radicalized than educated. That, what these politicians have done, is for me an act of criminal negligence or, perhaps in a few cases, negligent ignorance (which, in Roman law, is also a crime codified as a quasi-felony).
I hope that US law will eventually allow the person who knowingly generates or facilitates the dissemination of these lies to be prosecuted to win a few more votes, since the effect of insufficient vaccination in the United States (but not vaccines), is what that allows the persistence of the pandemic, which has created opportunities for the dissemination of new variants that, like delta, are much more aggressive. Furthermore, each day that passes in which the Government keeps vaccines that will not be used, a day is lost in which someone from a more needy country is exposed to the coronavirus without a vaccine. That is another slap in the face to the world’s poor who suffer the most from such neglect.
We know the outlook in low- and middle-income countries. It is tragic to see how in some developing countries there are people who spend days on the internet looking for appointments to get vaccinated, and spend even more hours in line waiting for the vaccine to not run out before their turn comes, otherwise they will have to pass another day failing to earn daily income, in another queue. In other places there are not even vaccines available.
The global process of sharing vaccines has not been really successful. Most of the countries have received very few doses, despite the enormous efforts of various cooperation agencies. For developing countries, the problem is access to vaccines, rather than cost (which, so far, thanks to the efforts of many, has been quite reasonable). The black market was reduced to those with economic access and a visa: they traveled to Florida, Texas and other states, and were sometimes vaccinated at the same airport. In Latin America, Chile was a great example of early access to vaccines. With Uruguay, it is one of the countries with the highest per capita income in the region, and it has used those resources quite well. In the United States, 70% of eligible people have already received at least one dose. At this time, Uruguay leads the list of Latin American countries with the highest percentage of the population with at least one dose of the covid-19 vaccine (75.6%). Chile follows with 74.3%, and in third place is Panama with 62.4%.
For me, Ecuador, with less income, has done a good job buying and administering vaccines these last two months. The country is fifth on the list of population rates with at least one dose, at 56.43%.
Paraguay, Peru (where less than 30% of the population has at least one dose) and others have not followed a path similar to that of their neighbors. The less vaccinated they have, the more difficult it will be to cope with the delta variant. Although this can be a disaster, unlike the US and Europe, I believe that what happens in the region would not be due to the negligence of some poorly educated citizens and opportunism of the irresponsible politicians who encourage them, but because of the limitation of their governments and the still limited access of poor countries to vaccines.
But something that many governments have yet to understand is that to stop a pandemic we need coordinated efforts. Unfortunately, this can be a warning and, if we continue with the same type of political selfishness – as with the environment – we will realize in an even more catastrophic way that we live on the same planet, and that what a country does it inevitably affects everyone else.
The delta variant has proven to be what the scientists told us, very infectious, but those vaccinated have sufficient protection and, if infected, the result is less fatal and fewer patients end up in the hospital. So, with vaccines, I do not think that the delta variant should force us to return to the indiscriminate lockdowns of 2020, which – as I boldly mentioned more than a year ago – is a luxury for the few. In many places, where people need to go outside to work and live, they cannot afford that luxury.
What to do then? It is simple, to hold responsible those who cause the problem, those who refuse to be vaccinated: beyond the superficiality of understanding freedom as “doing whatever I want”, I was very clear in a conversation on the Choque program of Opinions of CNN in Spanish –in July– when I said that the time to inform, educate and motivate is over. The time has come to make vaccines mandatory for all of us who have access to them (with exceptions for those who have medical conditions justifiable by a professional). Everyone else should get vaccinated, and those who don’t should take responsibility for verifying (at their own expense) that they are not infected every time they come into contact with other citizens in closed spaces (schools, hospitals, nursing homes , restaurants). Otherwise, they should not be allowed entry, or allowed only by wearing masks and other appropriate protective measures. Only then will we have a policy consistent with science that has allowed us access to these almost miraculous vaccines, which all they ask is to be used to end this tragedy that can still cause many more deaths.
This pandemic has shown some examples of cooperation (Covax is an outstanding one, although insufficient) and several of good political management, but many others (many more) showed not only the selfishness but the criminal negligence of many politicians in too many countries. This shows how far we are from a world prepared to face pandemics and other global catastrophes, such as climate change, which will also need altruistic international collaboration. Global warming does not forgive mistakes and is a terrible warning. We have shown, unfortunately, that we are not prepared to face it.
Let’s work together to defeat this, which I hope will be the last wave of the pandemic, a wave that could have been prevented.
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