Why the rich get access to the COVID-19 vaccine FIRST before the poor

First let’s do the math and take stock of the science. It takes big bucks, and lots of intellectual capital to develop a vaccine — more so to do it at the speed with which companies like Pfizer and Moderna did. Furthermore, the technology and expertise that went into these development efforts weren’t built up in-house individually by these companies and groups. They were backed by the long histories of scientific and technological progress racked up by the societies that bred and raised them. Furthermore, much of this scientific and technological achievement is accounted for by the collaborative efforts of scientists and labs all over the world — predominantly from First World countries.

Second, much of this development effort was led by the private sector. The private sector don’t do stuff for nothin’ just like farmers and food producers aren’t charity organisations out to solve world hunger. Big Pharma don’t give away drugs they spent millions to develop any more than farmers give away produce they broke their backs farming and harvesting.

Third thing to consider is the most confronting fact of all. Lives that contribute more to the economy get first priority over lives that matter less economically. Harsh as this fact may be, it is the outcome of a stark equation inherent in the economic system all of us who buy and sell stuff using money signed up to. Indeed, this pandemic raised a difficult question many governments had to answer:

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How much of the economy would we be willing to sacrifice to save lives?

A rephrased version of this question drives the thinking even further to its inevitable key point:

How many lives are we willing to lose to re-open the economy?

A curious concept called Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) is routinely considered by the United States government when making decisions on investments that aim to save lives. Using VSL analyses done back in the 1980s, the value of an American life was estimated to be about 10 million in today’s dollars. A paper written by H. Spencer Banzhaf in 2013 on The Cold-War Origins of the Value of Statistical Life is quoted in an article on the same subject published on Wired where the following hypothetical scenario is used to illustrate how VSL is applied…

“We spend some money to smooth out a curve on a highway and predict it’ll lessen the chance of dying of each person who goes around that curve,” Banzhaf says. “If there are million people driving that curve, and each one has a reduced risk of dying on that curve of one in a million, then by fixing the curve, we saved one life.” If you believe in the VSL, it’s worth spending $10 million to regrade the road.

In the setting of a Third World country like the Philippines, the same approach may be applied when considering investing in health and safety measures and facilities in public works. However, the question as to whether the life of a person living in the Third World is worth as much as, say, an American life measured using the VSL method would then come up. Perhaps, then, this partly explains why health and safety are not considered as much in public facilities in the Third World as they are in the First World.

Coming back to the question of how to prioritise distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, it becomes clear why it makes sense in the global economic scheme of things to prioritise inoculating the people of rich societies first. Take the industry most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — travel and tourism. Pound-for-pound, the tourists and travellers spending the most money at a trourist or travel destination would be people from the First World. Thus, it makes sense to governments of the First World to see open borders and freedom of travel amongst their little club of rich citizens as a priority to pursue. Multiply that thinking across other industries and the equation and statistics average out with the likely outcome of all roads leading to how much economic sense there is in prioritising the top contributors to national economies over all the rest.

When you are poor and not a priority in this scheme of things, what are you to do then? Well, there is “activism” — basically whining about what one is entitled to as this Netizen does on Twitter

the Philippines who supplies the WORLD with NURSES will be among the last to receive the vaccine??

That’s not too different from other appeals to charity that have hardly made a dent in the way the free markets operate — how, for example, a rich family of five could live in a big house while a poor family of eight make do in a little shack beside a mosquito-infested estero. That’s the free market we all signed up to — one that assures us that money will persist as our most reliable measure of value and societies’ most objective scorekeeper of success. The best life has to offer goes to people who could pay for it.

In light of all this, it is quite obvious that the Philippines’ mass production of nurses-for-export (thereby accounting for the high statistical probability that a Filipino would be the first to administer the COVID-19 vaccine) is a non-factor in the global scheme of COVID-19 vaccination priorities. From the perspective of those grasping at the short end of the stick that reality dictates, it may seem like an outrage and an affront to “fairness” that the Philippines is at the bottom of the world’s priorities. Perhaps the call to action here is not the typical ones traditional “activists” make but more the ones realists make — that Filipinos should learn to become more self-sufficient and to ensure that they are inherently capable of honouring the commitments they enter into as a matter of habit.

17 Replies to “Why the rich get access to the COVID-19 vaccine FIRST before the poor”

  1. So-called First world nations have definitely incurred more debt than they can commit to. At least benign0 is still entitled to his opinion.

  2. Those who develop the vaccine, and can afford to pay for it…are the first to be inoculated the vaccine…
    People in the first world countries can afford it.

    The Philippines is a third world country. Most of its people, cannot afford the vaccine, unless, it is given free by the government.

    It does not matter, if we export nurses, to serve in first world countries. They go there, because they are paid low in their own country…and they, spend a lot of money going to nursing schools.

    Money defines the lives of people. If you have no money, you are expendable !

  3. When the Philippines put in a bid to host the FIBA Finals 2017 they did not trumpet their infrastructure or anything. They justified their bid because of their love for the game. Usual pinoy logic. Do not bring up tangibles like accomplishments, wins or bricks and mortar but intangibles like puso. The reality I guess is not pretty and probably comical.

    Typical pinoy attitude. We deserve ____ because we are pinoy. Paying for something or innovation or bringing something to the table never applies in their argument. So you produce nurses. Who is keeping score? You want royalties?? It is called OFW remittances. Your country can produce babies but not a fertile job market nor can it produce a vaccine and you are telling the job providers and the vaccine producers where YOU belong in the food chain??

    Pinoys value baduy and smart shame yet they feel they should dictate what they deserve. The world does not work that way.

    1. Coming from an non-contributing Pinoy yourself, with the tone and manner by which you seem to be jubilant and triumphant about it, is simply unbelievable. You ought to congratulate yourself for being, actually, one of them. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?!

  4. Has the PH government (or the department of health) decided yet who will get the vaccine first within the PH population? Is the order the same as described by Benigno? First the elites then the upper class and the poor as last? Or will those employed in the health industry (nurses, doctors) and/or the weak (vulnerables and being a halth hazard when attracting Covid?) come as first?
    And how will the PH government register/document who is inoculated/vaccinated. Will the vaccinated person get a piece of evidence that he/she had the vaccine?

  5. Benigno didn’t really address the title/ main question in this article. Considering who are at the top of the chain and the state and fragility of economies, value and contribution seem to take the backseat to censorship and “scarcity”. Somebody tell us in clearer terms how and why the rich of this planet deserve priority access to the vaccine.

    1. Why are people who can produce vaccines regarded as more valuable than those who can beg for them?” Well, Rody-boy here has a simple answer… Some Guys Have All the Luck

      If there was spaceship that had room to save only 100 humans (to perpetuate humanity) before a world-wide disaster struck, who should we put on board? Someone who is smart, healthy and beautiful, or one who is stupid, sickly and ugly? Should we have a visionary planner or AI decide? Should the selection be by lottery, ballots, or mortal combat?

      When there is a scarce resource of something, how should we make decisions on who gets what? If we need to take a first-principles approach, a deeper study of utilitarianism and hedonistic calculus may be called for.

  6. in fact, these countries’ fortunes are built on plunder and colonization so as a form of reparation they should prioritize the poor nations. unless of course, you support rape, murder and plunder of weaker countries.

    1. Plunder and colonisation is what drove human history forward. Those who were good at it WON and went on to build the ironic liberal democracies that today’s wretches in the Third World aspire to emulate. They now form the societies that could develop the wonder drugs and vaccines that their former “oppressed” (now “independent”) colonies BEG for.

      Ain’t REALITY a bitch, right?

      1. ohhh we have a pro colonialist here. wont change your mind, but just curious: how was “history forwarded” for the peoples exterminated?

        For the rest of grp readers who have not yet performed a self lobotomy here are some readings:




  7. It would be inequality. We would have blamed Duque for not getting us 10 million Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines. Hoping for new vaccine against COVID-19 may be patience.

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