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Time to Think of Yourself


You’ve had your two vaccinations. Next autumn, you are offered a Covid booster vaccination. Would you accept it or request that it went to someone in the Global South who has not yet received any protection at all?

It’s the sort of question which I used to ask undergraduates in ethics classes to encourage them into thinking about how we make decisions. I would hope that in the classroom we would have concluded that my question presents a false choice. My proffered vaccine dose is never going to find its way to India or Brazil where the need currently is enormous. That is especially true of vaccines which require particular refrigeration facilities but it applies to all types of vaccine.

While this may be a false dichotomy, it nevertheless invites us to walk around it to view it from different angles. As we do so, we begin to understand what choices we might have.

The practical solutions to such desperate ethical dilemmas are well above our personal pay grades. Health care infrastructures which take decades to establish simply do not exist in some places. Provision of clean water supplies is difficult and frequently poor. The international Covax programme which seeks to redistribute vaccines more equitably is currently only a modest success. The G7 nations in their forthcoming summit will need to take urgent action.

So is there anything we can do? We can give larger donations to charities seeking our support. When I’ve had the possible autumn booster I can give to a charity offering vaccinations to people in the Global South. Then the trouble is there are so many good causes that it becomes confusing. Best probably to focus on a couple of them.

Then there’s my political power such as it is. The UK’s long commitment to giving 0.7% of our annual wealth as a nation in foreign aid has been reduced by the present government by £4 billion a year. It’s a drop in a bucket when you think of the sort of numbers that the Chancellor has been borrowing. But it’s the difference between life and death to some children in our former colonies. If we have any opportunity via online polling, the ballot box, or social media we can at least protest against this lapse in our national generosity. Please consider this blog such a protest!

Perhaps the most satisfactory answer lies in a degree of self-interest. As Gordon Brown so rightly said, ‘Nobody is safe until everybody is safe’. The virus will continue to mutate and spread until it is under control everywhere. The current restrictions on travel cannot last forever, and the virus is quite adept at eluding them. When we look for ways to fight infection in another part of our overcrowded planet we are also acting in self-defence.

If we – nationally and personally – do not meet the challenge, it is we and our children who will ultimately pay the price as well as those currently paying with their lives in India and Brazil. Whether we like it or not, we live in a joined-up world.

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May 07, 2021

Thanks, Mike, for prodding us to think about these ethical and humanitarian issues. One result is that I will prioritize my philanthropy a bit differently, taking into account the principles you've enunciated. I want to live my beliefs better. Blessings!

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