covid-19 vaccine US america
(Image: AP/Mark Lennihan)

Hurrah, the vaccine is here! Let the rejoicing be unconfined! Truly a holiday season miracle which shows the folly of the war on Christmas and the truth of the Western faith. I mean you don’t see Buddha dishing out any miracle cures, do ya?

Continue in this vein indefinitely.

Truly, the apparent discovery of an effective COVID-19 vaccine is a cause for rejoicing, proof of the success of a massive interconnected global effort, subcontracted to both private and public entities but driven by the power of the state to foot the bill.

Were it not for state pre-orders in the millions and billions, Pfizer would still be working on nine new anti-depressants.

But as we have noted before, the most important fact about COVID is that it functions as a rehearsal. We are treating the rehearsal as the event itself, but that doesn’t change its nature.

The third SARS virus in 20 years, it was the most successful formulation to date: a virus which spreads itself by turning human hosts into sneezing, hacking machines, sufficient to give a small number of them shredded respiratory systems and death. As global diseases go it’s a doddle — not even close to the category of typhus or diphtheria.

And as rehearsals go, we pretty much stumbled through it. Failure to recognise a categorical shift that was under way was compounded by the decentred nature of global privatised neoliberalism, privatised airports, hospitals etc, followed by the right’s nihilistic determination to project a political-culture war on to it.

A brutal triage was applied to the very old, the chronically ill, and high-contact essential and not-so-essential workers. The worst response was in the Anglo-American centre where the individualist impulse, embedded and engineered, created a chaos that effectively handed control to the virus up to the point of vaccine distribution. A lucky escape surely.

There’s no sign we have truly learnt from this first act rehearsal. Is there any sign of comprehensive and public plans being developed for the viral age’s next go? Something that has a 5% mortality rate? One that hits children? Or any sort of thing which would make the full suspension of normal life necessary?

One would presume the military has such a thing tucked away in a folder somewhere, but it would be good to have something based on as much consent and shared understanding as possible.

But we’ve already moved on to the vaccine — and in doing so revealed the true barbarity of our age.

As with the global spread of AIDS in the ’90s, the invention of the COVID-19 vaccine has shown the type of “globalisation” we pursue, one in which the north and south are separate spheres — save for the exploitation of one by the other.

So it was no surprise that when the race to create a vaccine was on the pre-order by the global north, together with India and China, squeezed out the “lower south” — the collection of poor and powerless countries called variously the “fourth world”, the G77, the bottom (2) billion, and so on. Largely but not wholly Africa, which may have to wait until late 2022 to 2023 for a full supply.

The scramble away from Africa and the rest, the absolute dereliction of any global responsibility, the near-absence of any debate about it, is every bit as obscene as I remember the global spread of AIDS — again to Africa — being. Worse perhaps. Then, the undoubted major logistical difficulties of treating AIDS in Africa was used as an excuse for the real purpose: to buttress global regimes of intellectual property at a time when Big Pharma was under threat from global south determination to create affordable generic alternatives to branded drugs.

Then, that obscenity created a movement of global protest and support, drawing on the remnant energies of internationalism of the postwar left.

Now, there has been almost nothing, even though African leaders have been calling for a UN-brokered global deal to ensure some sort of fairness — or less lethal unfairness — to the distribution. But such calls have been minimally reported, as has any sort of debate about how this is going down.

That’s especially so — and especially shameful in the left-liberal media which has been so trippily focused on lifestyle articles about lockdowns and the like — now that life may be on the edge of resuming some sort of normality, that they have shown little interest in whether our good fortune is coming at the exact and specific cost of lives elsewhere.

This is very much in line with the politics of race and gender of the moment — focused so extensively on individual identities and conditions it has become wholly bound by the imperatives of the north, and especially of its dominant classes, and global solidarity has collapsed.

You would think we would be able to recognise this by now. Because this is not merely something happening as we watch impassively. This is something we are doing. Just as we killed and blighted the lives of many hundreds of millions with the iniquitous debt bomb of the ’80s and onwards, as we let 10 to 20 million die of an AIDS epidemic we could have prevented, this is an act of lethal global racism on a vast scale — a measure not merely of capitalism and its associated nationalism’s inefficiency but of its positive evil.

We will do it, it will be done, and it will pass without much protest or reflection (although some resistance will eventually develop). The death toll will be of the scale COVID-19 creates, and will be unremarkable. And it is all rehearsal for something that comes after, when we triage the planet and are willing to let billions die.

Still, the vaccine is here! Happy holidays!