How vaccine inequality is reordering the world

Joseph Dana
5 min readFeb 22, 2021
Medics and police officers checking a shipment of Russian Sputnik V vaccines at a Gaza border crossing with Israel

Imagine this scenario: Concerned about US President Joe Biden’s new Middle East policy and the International Criminal Court’s decision to investigate war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel decides to get on everyone’s good side and announces that it will vaccinate the entire Palestinian population against Covid-19.

Such a decision would be an instant public relations victory. But dream on. While Israel is among the leaders in the world in inoculating its population, it has shown no inclination toward taking care of all of the people under its control — the Palestinians being the excluded class.

Worse, it appears to seek to be an impediment to good sense, going so far as to turn away a truck bound for Gaza last week with vaccines the Palestinian Authority had secured from Russia.

The situation in Israel-Palestine, however, is not unique in vaccine “un-diplomacy.” The pandemic has not been an advertisement for the claimed moral superiority of the West over the Rest.

But first, back to Israel — and bear in mind here that it claims to be the only Western, or at least Western-styled, nation in the Middle East.

Admittedly, under international law Israel’s obligation to vaccinate the Palestinian population living under military occupation is unclear. As the occupying power, Israel has specific responsibilities for the occupied population’s medical needs. But a global pandemic is a unique situation that isn’t specifically addressed.

Nonetheless, you’d think there would be moral grounds for helping out, as well as enlightened self-interest — Israel’s general population interacts with Palestinians on a daily basis in many cases, after all.

An apologist might argue that Israel doesn’t have enough vaccines to spare. And this, in fact, speaks to the wider unsavoriness of the vaccine-grab among — specifically and exclusively — Western nations.

In their rush to secure vaccines for themselves, wealthy countries in the West, including the United States and some members of the European Union, have turned their backs on large areas of the developing world. Canada has vaccines on order for more than five times the number of its population, even as South Africa has been able to…

Joseph Dana