By Jacob Derin
The Indian COVID-19 crisis is reaching a critical point, one the United States was forced to contend with a few months ago. The strain on the Indian healthcare system is beginning to take its toll. As the United States, Israel and other countries continue to push forward with their vaccination campaigns, some parts of the world have been badly left behind.
The Biden Administration recently shipped supplies to India to help alleviate the crisis. Will it be enough? Only time will tell, but if current trends are any indication, the answer is a resounding “no.”
As reported cases skyrocket across the country, the official numbers are almost certainly an undercount in a country of nearly 1.4 billion. This is a good time for countries with (relatively) successful vaccination campaigns to ask, “are we doing enough?”
Aside from the plain humanitarian reasons for supporting India, there are rational reasons to do so out of pure self-interest. Any reservoir of COVID-19 is a place where new variants can emerge. And we don’t really know how long immunity from the vaccines lasts. A large population of infected people could easily start the pandemic all over again when protection from the vaccines wears off.
We can and should make plans for booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine; however, if the disastrous vaccine rollout last time around is any indication of the future, I wouldn’t stake my life on it. Incidentally, that’s precisely what I would be doing.
The humanitarian aid the U.S. and other countries have shipped to India thus far is a good start. However, it won’t be nearly enough to stem the tide of death and horror resulting from the Indian healthcare system buckling altogether. It is currently showing some signs of doing so.
Just months ago, the United States recorded thousands of COVID-19 deaths a day, and it could be justifiably ranked among the hardest-hit countries. Now that the vaccination campaign has begun to turn the tide, the consequentialist calculus has shifted dramatically. Dollar for dollar and shot for shot, COVID-fighting resources will spare more death and suffering in India than they will almost anywhere else at the moment.
I don’t mean to suggest that governments abandon their respective duties to their own citizens to give this aid, but they can and should be doing more than they are. One simple yet surprisingly difficult step we could take would be to release the patent on Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines.
The purpose of the patent system, to incentivize and reward innovation, has been served. Now the moral calculus weighing intellectual property on the one hand and potentially hundreds of thousands of deaths on the other seems pretty straightforward. At least it is to me. But maybe my math skills have slipped during the lockdowns.
The pandemic is reaching a delicate point at which the disparities in its effects will be genuinely stark. Wealthy, technologically sophisticated counties will be able to control and contain it (at least for now), while less fortunate societies will be wracked with misery. Anything we can do to avoid this outcome is an unmitigated good.
Jacob Derin is a third-year English and Philosophy major at UC Davis.
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