Global North cities like Nuremberg and Ottawa have been the focus of protests due to the rejection of covid-19 related restrictions, street demonstrations have been taking place in other cities including Helsinki, London, Paris, Athens and Stockholm. On January 22, a network called World Wide Rally For Freedom called for a day that also took to the streets in several cities in Canada, Australia and India.
Perhaps the most notorious of the recent protests was that carried out by Canadian truck drivers, who arrived last Saturday, February 29, in the country's capital, Ottawa, in the so-called "Freedom Convoy" to protest against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the decision of the Canadian authorities to force truck drivers to be vaccinated. The organization was attributed to anti-vaccine movements and extremist groups in Canada that have the support of personalities such as entrepreneur Elon Musk or Donald Trump Jr.
It would appear that the so-called “fringe minority” is actually the government
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 30, 2022
Truck drivers have opposed the decision by Canada and the United States to require 15% of commercial drivers (unvaccinated) crossing the border between the two countries to be vaccinated against covid-19 to avoid 14-day quarantines. In recent days, other groups opposed to the public health measures adopted, ranging from covid passports to limits on the number of people in commercial establishments, have joined in.
The media highlighted that they are a mix of unions such as carriers, other citizens affected by the restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic, right-wing extremist groups, anti-Semites, Islamophobes and supremacists.
In another curious development, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family were moved by security services from their official residence in Ottawa to a "secure location" in the capital fearing that the protests would provoke unrest. Trudeau described the convoy of truckers as a "small fringe minority" who have "unacceptable views" on the measures.
HOWLING IN THE NEOLIBERAL JUNGLE
Even when led by ultra-conservative groups that appeal to the idea of defending constitutional freedoms to oppose any decision against the movement of people, the anti-vaccine and anti-restriction protests have gained followers for reasons as diverse as the unions that have been joining them.
Antivaccine groups, rather than being networks of delusional individuals, are linked to financial powers that are even accused of promoting the depreciation of life. They have managed to impact and capture a part of the working classes that the system has left adrift in the middle of the pandemic. The reaction of the corporate elites during the first months of the confinement (or quarantine) remains memorable when, in order to "save the economy", millions of workers who were already suffering the effects of health care systems plagued by austerity and state neglect, if not privatized, were laid off. Moreover, the restrictive measures have been chaotic, if not completely excluding the working majorities and taking to the extreme the exploitation of everything and everyone in favor of the richest 1%.
The astronomical profits of these same elites are well known. The NGO Oxfam reported last January that the total wealth of billionaires jumped from $8.6 trillion in March 2020 to $13.8 trillion in November 2021, a larger increase than in the previous 14 years combined. According to the report called "Inequalities Kill," the world's 10 richest men alone saw their collective wealth more than double, with an increase of $1.3 billion a day.
According to the Oxfam report:
It is estimated that inequalities between countries will grow for the first time in a generation. Developing countries, deprived of access to sufficient vaccines due to the protection granted by rich governments to the monopolies of large pharmaceutical companies, have had to cut back on social spending as their levels of indebtedness have risen, and now face the possibility of having to adopt austerity measures.
This is how the protests of anti-vaccine sectors, defenders of the status that facilitates this model of plunder and excessive accumulation, are confused with the protests of sectors that reject restrictions imposed to the detriment of workers and the activities that allow them to earn a subsistence wage. These sectors, already defeated from protesting against labor flexibilization and the high informality of neoliberal economies, reject the fact that governments do not allow free transit to unvaccinated people (who in many cases are minorities).
In formal labor relations, which are increasingly on the decline, what predominates are labor laws that facilitate exploitation and dismissal, while what is on the rise is the informal economy, intensified by the discourse of entrepreneurship and uberization. They have no choice but to ask to be allowed to work (under whatever conditions) because they no longer waste their time asking for public health, free and quality, much less compensatory measures to protect their families from an extraordinary event such as the one in process.
Due to the appearance of the highly contagious omicron variant, many governments have imposed restrictions on transit and access to public places for those who are not vaccinated, to the point that critics of antiviral vaccines speak of apartheid and persecution. The experience of the same draconian measures taken at the beginning of the pandemic stimulates rejection not only because of the traumatic nature of confinement and confinement for urban populations, but also because of the socioeconomic impacts already described. In the end, many workers would comply with the restrictions if they could enjoy sustainable leave and social programs that would allow them to remain confined without jeopardizing their household incomes.
However, behind the anti-vaccine discourse is the tainted freedom that the West sells to its self-absorbed flocks, which have been stripped of any hint of awareness of social duty, so that the cult of a notion of freedom prevails that ignores the risk to others of refusing to wear a mask or get vaccinated to avoid occupying a hospital bed that could be available for people with non-communicable health problems.
VIRUS OF DISILLUSIONMENT AND DISTRUST
We are witnessing the staging of mobilizations in which crowds of people demand that the system of things in which social Darwinism predominates let them live the supposed freedom they should enjoy. In this case, the freedom of transit is restricted by the obligation to inoculate themselves with anti-virus vaccines, the same ones with which these countries have established certain geopolitical control mechanisms such as those described in a report by the Samuel Robinson Institute.
There is no way to understand this discourse of freedom, moreover, when events such as that of the World Health Organization (WHO) endlessly postponing the authorization for emergency use of a Russian vaccine manufacturer while Western governments force their populations to use other vaccines immersed in political and clinical controversies.
This same discourse of freedom is used to accuse countries like China of being dictatorial for their mechanisms to prevent mass contagions and also to advocate the privatization of vaccines by mega-corporations such as Pfizer or AstraZeneca, whose profits have been greater than 100%, even when the research and development (R&D) phases were financed by the respective governments with public funds.
More than doubts about vaccines, many people distrust Western governments that have been improvising in an alarming way since the beginning of the pandemic. Although experts have been warning for years, these governments were not prepared for a pandemic, either within their own countries or in the global village they claim to lead.
In countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, only 49% of their citizens trust companies, according to a survey conducted in 28 countries during November 2021 and published by Statista. The countries with the greatest trust turned out to be emerging China (84%) and India (79%); it may have to do with the way in which the corporate sectors have taken on the pandemic, with U.S. pharmaceutical companies being among the least rejected, by the way.
On the other hand, in India, the Serum Institute, the world's leading vaccine manufacturer, stopped exporting vaccines as soon as the delta variant appeared and contagions, hospitalizations and deaths increased explosively, in order to attend to the internal population. Meanwhile, China, where there was no increase in cases, ranks first in exports of vaccines against covid-19, with more than 80 million doses sent to 60 countries, followed by the European Union and India with 77 and 64 million respectively. In addition, 91% of Chinese respondents said they had confidence in their government while 74% of Indians said the same.
The dissemination of false information regarding the pandemic and other political issues of global concern has made corporate media to top the list of companies with least credibility worldwide, followed by social networks for their increasingly obvious handling of people's private data to profit from it. In addition, 23 of the 28 countries distrust government more than corporations, so skepticism and distrust is viral.
These are the same governments that are now pushing for the majority to be inoculated, the same governments that are making public health and labor precarious, leaving the majorities out in the cold in the name of the freedom of the rich. Poverty, social marginalization, ignorance, the promotion of ignorance and banality that lead to the loss of historical sense, the failures of health systems, the privatization of health in some countries, wars, etc., qualify as the veiled contribution of governments and corporations to anti-vaccine and anti-restriction demonstrations.
It is striking how there are no protests against the corporations that have created this kind of "hunger games" around the pandemic, the same corporations that have created the conditions for governments to give priority to their profits threatened by confinements and other anti-vaccine measures. These destabilize the functioning of the market economy as a result of the vertiginous fall in the prices of its accumulating machinery, with almost no priority given to the health and life of human beings.
MARKET OR HUMAN LIFE? THE PENDING DEBATES
It is complicated, at this point in history, to force people to be vaccinated and to trust vaccines that have been used as an instrument of geopolitical and economic control, however the distrust of these drugs is not new, it has been widely reported. Some of the criticisms are encompassed in the rejection of the commodification of health and medicalization as a mechanism that facilitates it.
In his book Medical Nemesis (1975), the Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich pointed out the problem of the functioning of institutions of knowledge and the power of physicians: "The excessive medicalization of society fosters ailments by reinforcing a sick society that not only preserves its defective members, but also exponentially multiplies the demand for the role of the physician".
The powerful medical industrial complex, of which Big Pharma is a part, drives the consumerism of consultations, medicines, hospitalizations and everything related to health in many social sectors. The patient becomes just another consumer of the medical industry who, according to Illich, "is reduced to an object under repair, no longer a subject to be helped to heal". Thus, medical science has been transformed into a machine where the use of technologies suppresses the old conceptions of medical semiology: talking, checking and examining the patient.
On the other hand, research in the area of health is driven by the profits of Big Pharma, not by the health of the majority. The commoditization of knowledge is a debate that should not fade away in the scientific community, especially when many scientific agendas of peripheral countries do not correspond to their problems or urgencies but to those of the metropolis.
Health systems have been undermined by those corporate interests which, rather than promoting preventive health, prefer welfare-based health care, which, when it arrives, usually acts late. This has given rise to mistrust, not only in vaccines, but also in the industrial network that designs, produces, distributes and imposes drug prices.
Big Pharma has committed numerous crimes, including the opioid crisis that is sweeping the United States. Janssen invented fentanyl, a highly addictive painkiller that could be bought and promoted (rewarding doctors who prescribed it) freely in the United States, for which Johnson & Johnson (current owner of Janssen) was condemned.
What has been said does not justify the denial of the use of vaccines; if that was the case, we should not even eat, since food is also a commodity in the hands of large corporations. What should increase is the critical sense regarding the instrumentalization of rights as control mechanisms that commodify social relations and that of societies with the rest of nature.
In fact, many people do not get vaccinated due to the difficult access to health systems or to truthful information regarding SARS-CoV-2 and its sequelae, so a person who is not vaccinated is simply poor and uninformed, not necessarily anti-vaccine. More complex if you have leaders like the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, who denigrates vaccines and calls covid-19 "gripezinha" -the little flu- which has left a thousands of deaths and social upheaval in the neighboring country.
In the midst of a global crisis, the medical sciences are today witnessing a debate that includes epistemic issues, some sectors recognize and others avoid the fact that the time has come to build deliberations on whether they should sell drugs or seek to improve human wellbeing. If vaccines go in the latter direction, there is no higher discussion than that; that is why the development of new ethical planning based on care, humanized attention and mutual support is required for health to be integral, gratifying as well as free and public as well as collective.
OMICRON AS A TURNING POINT OR A DANGEROUS CURVE?
A single healthy (or asymptomatic) carrier of the virus is enough to make an unvaccinated person, or one who is not fully vaccinated, sick. Even though there are treatments that effectively cure some symptoms, there are no highly successful drugs available to most people. In addition, both health authorities and corporations have made little progress in the manufacture of tests that would allow a person to know if he/she has immunity to SARS-Cov-2 (by measuring his/her T cells that provide cellular immunity) and if he/she needs a booster dose of vaccine, which would save vaccines.
The emergence of the omicron variant is attributed to the ability of the virus to mutate in African countries where vaccination rates are still relatively low, precisely because of the failure of global elites to distribute vaccines fairly. The hoarding of vaccines, which also involved many of the countries witnessing street actions today, left semi-colonial or subordinate countries out of vaccination.
Omicron has 32 mutations of the S protein (the crown of the virus), twice as many as the delta variant, which would have implied greater transmissibility, severity and less effectiveness of vaccines to combat it. With the passing of the months it has been determined that it is not so severe and that some vaccines can guarantee sufficient protection against this variant, which has led some European countries to consider the idea of "flu-izing" covid-19 or treating the pandemic as endemic. This would consist of ceasing to contain the populations in order to attack the disease itself, bypassing the prevention that has been exercised until now through social confinement, use of masks and quarantines. The responsibility for controlling contagion would be left to the citizen, which has already been viewed with concern by the WHO.
The debate, which occurs where there are higher rates of vaccinated population, seems to respond to the protests already described; as is known, Omicron has had a much greater impact and has provided a dose of mass immunity which, together with vaccines, has made it possible to reduce overcrowding in emergencies and intensive care units. However, in countries with low rates, the virus is still at ease, mutating and generating new variants whose characteristics are undetermined.
It has even been said that the virus is beginning to "tame itself" because it is causing fewer severe cases, but there is no evidence of this, only hints. Mutations are, by definition, random. If omicron or delta mutate into more severe forms, the consequences would also be more severe, and detection and containment is one of the most complex problems for the scientific community involved in their study. If case statistics are no longer monitored with the necessary genomic surveillance, little can be done in the event of the appearance of another variant such as delta.
HOW TO CREATE MANY ANTI-VACCINE MOVEMENTS?
In a recent article entitled "Why Cuba does not have an anti-vaccine movement", the economist and philosopher Marc Vandepitte describes how, amidst chaotic measures and mistrust, a public perception against anti-vaccine measures in Europe has developed. Many street demonstrations are against the erratic and self-interested management of the crises by the European corporatocracies. What the author describes about Cuba is similar to what happened in Venezuela, where such mobilizations have not occurred due to the timely action of a State that promotes solidarity rather than repression.
Vandepitte also highlights "the bond of trust between the local population and health personnel" as the basis of preventive health as well as the "house to house" to track cases. He also mentions how the effects of the delta variant last July combined with "the serious economic problems resulting from the U.S. economic blockade, the loss of tourism and the increase in food prices", which was not without an opportunity for Washington to seek, as always, to impose a "soft blow".
This has not prevented Cuba from developing five different vaccines, immunizing 90% of its population (the second highest percentage in the world, after the United Arab Emirates, and the highest in Latin America), sharing drugs and doctors with more than 10 countries (including Italy) and investing in health sovereignty to the point that 80% of the vaccines used in the country's vaccination programs are of national manufacture.
If you want to fuel an "anti-vaccine" movement you must:
- Hoard vaccines so that SARS-CoV-2 will mutate indeterminately.
- Disconfigure the State in favor of very, very, petty corporations.
- Stigmatize the most vulnerable populations; if they can be left to drown in the sea or turn their territories into hotbeds of war, so much the better.
- Stimulate individualistic competition and discard solidarity as a value.
- Inculcate in their populations.
- There is more, but we would run out of space....
There is no global strategy to combat covid-19 and the West is responsible for it by not releasing patents so that poor countries can have access both to vaccines and to several of the drugs that are relatively effective. Moreover, it has long since opted to make the vaccines and the pandemic itself a global reset in which the state of exception it has been imposing is intensified.