Cllr Paddy McDonald (SF).

‘No-one is safe until everyone is safe’

Appeal for equity of vaccine distribution to poorer countries

A call for an equitable global distribution of the Coronavirus vaccine attracted minimal support at the April meeting of Cavan County Council.

A motion put forward by Cllr Paddy McDonald (SF) to support the World Health Organisation's plea on the part of third world countries for a fair share of the vaccine was met with caution at the virtual meeting with only one councillor unequivocally supporting the proposal.

When speaking on the motion Cllr McDonald said: “Upwards of 130 countries have yet to receive a single vaccine. The cost of the vaccine to some of the poorest countries can be multiples of its cost to the more developed and economically strong countries.”

The Sinn Féin representative spoke of the distribution imbalance. “The people of the poorest countries will continue to die in disproportionate numbers while they wait for vaccines to arrive.

“To put this in perspective the Chief Executive of Trocaire, who are the sole providers of healthcare in the Gedo district of Somalia, an area the size of Ireland, has stated that they do not anticipate receiving any vaccines until well into next year 2022,” Cllr McDonald told members.

He explained that doctors, nurses and midwives in that area will not receive a vaccination this year, yet continue their frontline work in a challenging environment: “The death rate from coronavirus on the African continent is known to be at least 0.3% higher that the global average.”

Cllr McDonald told members that Pope Francis also expressed concern at the inequality. He concluded by saying: “No one is safe until everyone is safe. I appeal to everyone to play their part, sign the petition online.”

The motion initially failed to get a seconder, with Cllr John Paul Feeley saying: “Since the Covid situation has arisen, I have made very little comment about it because, unlike a lot of people who have spoken at council meetings or in the media, I am not an expert in immunology or public health. I am frustrated by the restrictions, like everyone else, but realise that the experts have good reasons to do what they are doing.”

The Fianna Fáil councillor continued: “I do have concerns about the WHO. I think their handling of Coronavirus, their handling of what has gone on in China, has been extraordinarily poor. I think they have not served the interests of the world very well by their kowtowing to the Chinese regime.”

Cllr Feeley acknowledged the merits of the motion, but voiced his reservations: “It's a very worthy motion, it is a very nice sentiment, no one could disagree with anything Cllr McDonald has said. We would all like to see the vaccine rolled out yesterday, but the question I would have to ask is 'who do we propose to take the vaccine away from in this country?'. If we decide to give one in 10 of our vaccines to poorer countries, then who do we take it away from?”

Agreeing with the motion Cllr Brendan Fay (Ind) said he also saw Cllr Feeley's perspective. “I agree with both views,” he said, “but I have to support Cllr McDonald. If another variant comes from Africa or Brazil, we could be back to square one. We have to look after the poorest as well as the richest in this world.”

Cllr McDonald clarified his position saying: ““I am not saying to leave anyone behind. As we all know the pharmaceutical companies are making lots of money out of this, the poor people of the African continent are suffering because of it. I am just wondering if the council are not going to support this?”The Bailieborough-based representative asked if anyone objected to the motion? Cllr Aiden Fitzpatrick (FF) and Cathaoirleach Sarah O'Reilly (Aont) both said they did not know enough about the matter to comment on it, but acknowledged the merits of the motion.

Cllr Clifford Kelly said the motion should reflect the council's stance that no one in Ireland should miss out on a vaccination because of such a measure.

Cllr TP O'Reilly said this was a big issue and not one that Cavan County Council should be getting involved with.

Cllr Shane P O'Reilly said, although the motion was worthy, 'charity begins at home': “I am not sure the World Health Organisation will sit up and listen to a motion in Cavan County Council.”

Cllr Feeley concluded his contribution saying he did not object to the idea but wanted clarity on who should not get the vaccine in this country or what drug should not be produced to make up the additional vaccines needed.