The desire (expressed by some – the WHO, for instance) for Britain to give away vaccines to other countries before we have vaccinated our own population is politically insane and, frankly, immoral. There: I’ve said it. Call me selfish, if you will. But let me explain why I say this.
Let’s take the young: they may not have the same risks of dying as older people but they do face the risks of catching Covid which, as my 22 year old son will attest, is really quite unpleasant. They also face the risks of getting Long Covid and/or permanent damage to their lungs (and possibly to other organs) at a young age. Permanent damage which will affect them for the rest of their lives. Look at pictures of X-rays of lungs after Covid. Believe me, having suffered similar long-lasting damage at the age of 23, it is not something which I would wish on anyone. For a government to adopt as a deliberate policy a course of action which will have this consequence is just wrong.
Then there is the economy which has been significantly shuttered for health reasons for nearly 11 months now. It will continue to be shuttered for even longer, possibly for 18 months. This has caused – and continues to cause – great harm to many people, especially the young, who have lost jobs, seen businesses damaged, sometimes beyond repair, lost savings, lost opportunities, lost the chance to do all those things which people of their age want to do – get on with careers, save, buy property etc. We need all our adults vaccinated so that, as soon as possible, the economy can work again – and can work for them above all. We simply cannot expect them to endure this continuing half-life and destruction of their opportunities simply so that politicians can get kudos from some WHO bureaucrats.
And there is social and personal life: what really makes life worth living. It is easy – for those of us in established relationships – to forget how hard this isolation has been for the young. (And, God knows, it has not been easy even for us.) But they have not been able to go out, have fun, meet new people, make friends, have relationships – casual or permanent, to fall in love, out of it, have sex, travel, have adventures, just live. The serendipity of life – when you are young, beautiful (in the way the young are), feel invincible, are fizzing with ideas and excitement and the possibilities of life, has largely been denied to them. Think back to our lives in our early 20’s: we were living and travelling and trying all sorts of stuff out, not sitting at home with parents watching repeats of TV programmes or the entire Netflix back catalogue. So we need, for their sake, for all our sakes, to get back to some sort of normality, to escape from this endless, dreary hibernation.
We are not going to do this if we just pause after vaccinating the highest priority groups and divert our focus to helping other countries. Such a policy is not just unfair to those who are vulnerable in the rest of the population (and, yes, I am in that group). It also means that some of them will become sick and some will die. Britain already has one of the highest number of deaths in the world. A British government has an overriding duty – the first and most important duty of any government – to do all it can to prevent further deaths and suffering among those who live here.
When it has vaccinated or obtained doses for all its population, then it can – and should – help other countries who are in a less fortunate position. It is not as if Britain is not doing something now. It has funded Covax generously. Its investment in pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity, its experience of managing a large-scale vaccination programme means that it will be in a very much better position to share its expertise and knowledge and practical advice. It means that the pharmaceutical companies will be in a better position to scale up and deliver vaccines across the world.
Global Britain is a fine slogan. It can have real meaning. But Britain does not rule the waves or the world. Nor should it. Plaudits from abroad should not be put ahead of the lives, health and interests of people in Britain.