Monday June 17, 2024

Vaccine justice

By Editorial Board
May 27, 2023

Pakistan recorded its second case of monkeypox within three days, bringing the country’s total tally of cases to five. However, none of the cases reported thus far have been locally transmitted, with all cases coming from those flying into the country from abroad. Health authorities and experts are adamant that there is currently no cause for alarm and that they have been successfully dealing with monkeypox for decades. Furthermore, it has been reported that asymptomatic patients of monkeypox cannot spread the virus, which ought to boost confidence in the effectiveness of testing and tracing strategies in containing the virus. That being said, considering that there is as yet no vaccine available for the virus in Pakistan, however small the risk of an outbreak is, it cannot be ruled out completely.

According to the WHO, the monkeypox virus is spread among humans via physical contact, contact with infected animals and contaminated surfaces and symptoms include skin rash and mucosal lesions accompanied by fever, body ache and swollen lymph nodes. The virus itself has been around for decades and although fatal cases are rare they are not exactly uncommon either, with a global outbreak last year leading to around 87,000 cases and 112 deaths. This prompted the WHO to declare a public health emergency of international concern in July 2022. In addition, progress on a monkeypox vaccine has been limited, with the smallpox vaccine being used to treat the virus in some countries.

This situation underscores the vulnerability of developing nations to viral outbreaks and pandemics as testing and tracing and other non-medicinal interventions are often the first and last line of defence against healthcare emergencies. As was witnessed during the Covid-19 pandemic, when vaccines for any disease do become available their supplies are zealously guarded by the advanced countries. During the pandemic, millions of doses of the vaccine went to waste even though they could have been used to save millions of lives in the Global South. There is a need to advance a platform of global vaccine justice that ensures vaccines are distributed in an equitable manner. This means not allowing rich countries to stockpile crucial vaccines only to waste them and making sure that all those who need a vaccine, regardless of the country they belong to, are able to get one.