The profit motive has been a catalyst to great improvements in the world, with many believing it to be a main driver of innovation and development. In fact, it is a foundational principle of economist Adam Smith’s metaphorical concept of the “invisible hand,” which postulates that profit-seekers are beneficial to society in general.

But the profit motive can and does sometimes conflict with aspirations of a higher nature, such as the notion that all life is of equal value.

This conflict appears to be playing out in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. It is a shameful display of self-interest at the real-time expense of others, a display that shines a bright light on the darker side of humanity.

The chief of the World Health Organization has lambasted drugmakers for special deals, motivated by profit, that are getting the vaccine in greater numbers to richer nations.

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus contends that healthier adults in richer countries are getting vaccinated before older people and health care workers in poorer countries. He says vaccine makers have targeted locations where “profits are highest.” He pointed to Guinea as a poor country that has received only 25 — two dozen plus one — vaccines, compared with millions that have made it to nearly 50 more wealthy nations, including the United States and countries of the European Union. “The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure,” he declared.

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It is understandable that all governments want to vaccinate their citizens against a pandemic that has claimed millions of lives. But nations mustn’t think only of themselves. They must rise to a higher calling and consider the needs of those without influence, money and power.

“(W)e now face the real danger that even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the worlds of the world’s haves and have-nots,” he lamented.

The WHO-backed “COVAX” vaccination program is supposed to get vaccines to all countries, based on need. That plan must be supported by America. It must be implemented.

Science and medicine have risen to the challenge of this historic pandemic by developing and bringing to market vaccines in record speed. Now humankind must stand up with a singular interest: the protection of all life by bridging the global divide in access to those inoculations.

This editorial is the opinion of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Board.

©2021 PG Publishing Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.