Vaccine Nationalism

So far, this year has definitely been monumental. 

With Donald Trump being banned from Twitter to Kim and Kanye’s potential divorce, living as a Gen-Z in Australia makes the pandemic seem like old news. But the harsh reality is far from that, as Covid-19 cases hit 29 million in India and the global GDP falls by 4.3% since the start of 2020. So, the vaccine rollout couldn’t arrive at a more essential time than now. 

But why is the distribution resembling something out of the ‘Hunger Games’, as poorer nations such as Mexico and India battle to the death for access to vaccine doses whilst simultaneously wealthier nations such as America have fully vaccinated over 141 million people equivalent to 42.5% of its total population?

Vaccine Distribution

Understanding the exchange between manufactures and nations is a significant aspect of the explanation. Vaccine production typically occurs in several stages ranging from scientific research, an unpredictable number of trials and finally distribution. But following the capitalistic nature of our world this process must be funded by money. 

In the early stages of forming the vaccine, to ensure the faster production, this money was sourced through bilateral deals between wealthier nations and manufactures. In exchange these nations were fast-tracked and placed first in the queue to receive the first wave of Covid-19 vaccines.

By January 2021, 96% of the Pfizer Biontech which was scheduled to be produced by the end of the year had already been bought and 100% of Moderna. As WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated at the Geneva conference, “No country was exceptional and should cut the queue and vaccinate all their population while some remain with no supply of the vaccine.” 

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Tedros claimed 42 countries had started rolling out their Covid-19 vaccination programme and 36 of them were high income nations compared to the 6 middle-income. This emphasises a clear discrimination against poorer nations, which are recording immense increases in total cases. 

The unethical distribution can be credited to the lower national wealth of poorer, developing nations who are inflexible to donating billions of dollars towards vaccine research which has no guarantee at producing results. However, wealthier nations representing 16% of the world population contributed to several vaccine trials hence, hold over half of the doses from the most promising developers. 

Is COVAX the answer?

In 2020 a partnership between WHO, the French government, and the European Commission launched COVAX. It was created to ensure equitable and fair access to Covid-19 vaccines, with a particular focus on the manufacturing and distribution capabilities in all participating countries.

COVAX essentially acts as a financing instrument, which is funded by contributions from wealthier nations such as Canada, Germany and France and corporate donors, to help 92 poorer countries, such as Nigeria and Kenya, who would otherwise be unable to afford the vaccine. 

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COVAX is apart of the global collaboration platform known as the ACT-Accelerator, which promotes multilateral cooperation between wealthier and poorer nations to empower equitable access to the vaccine and other tools such as Covid-19 tests and personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure accessibility across the world through the pandemic. 

It’s important to remember that COVAX is not only beneficial for poorer nations but also its contributors. In fact, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has warned that the global economy could lose $9.2 trillion if developing countries are left behind in the vaccine rollout. Furthermore, vaccine nationalism exacerbated by vaccine hoarding hampers the progress of achieving herd immunity within most populations which increases the probability of further mutations and its inevitable spread globally, setting off a whole new set of infections in those vaccinated against only the old variant. 

According to the World Economic Forum ‘It (COVAX) is ethically and morally right. But it is also economically right’, explaining the Covid-19 crisis may trigger cycles of higher economic inequality, lower social mobility among the vulnerable, and lower resilience to future shocks.

Hesitance to join 

Although the COVAX facility has now delivered life-saving vaccines to over 100 economies since making its first international delivery to Ghana on 24 February 2021. It will still fall short of supplying vaccines to all nations which have requested doses, in the first half of 2021. 

The aim behind the creation of COVAX has been to avoid panic buying out of self interest. However, as we have seen with the numerous, unpredictable lockdowns that have occurred since the initial outbreak. Covid-19 still remains virulent and erratic hence, even nations within the EU although embracing the European values and enforcing multilateralism as a way of conducting international politics, have joined the vaccine hoarding race. 

Although pledging support to COVAX there seems to be a high level of hypocrisy once cases within its own nation begin to soar. Highlighted particularly by recalling the export restrictions on Covid-19 vaccines. 

India’s commitment to the COVAX program earned Prime Minister Modi much applause worldwide. With the Prime Minister of Brazil even comparing him to a godly saviour. However, in April, as Covid-19 cases started witnessing unprecedented growth in India, now hitting 30 million cases and over 300,000 deaths. India is stuck with a vaccine shortage as its own manufacturing plant, Serum Institute of India (SII), is delivering on its COVAX shipments and the Indian government failed to place an advance purchase order even though it aimed to vaccinate 300 million individuals by July 2021. 

These exports have been rescheduled and the doses have been donated by nations such as America to contradict the low supply. Hence, through the chaotic situation still unfolding in India it serves as a concern that although delivering doses to other nations via the COVAX scheme is immensely helpful in theory, individual nations must ensure they are able to fight against a domestic outbreak and protect its own population. 

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I know we haven’t had the chance to fly on planes in a while but remember, put on your own mask before helping the person next to you.

Are we on the road to recovery

Vaccine nationalism has dominated the initial response to the pandemic in most developed nations, as privileged governments have prioritised their own population and individual economic gains rather than considering nations suffering with extreme increases in Covid-19 cases. Various initiatives such as COVAX have been created to facilitate a more equitable distribution of vaccines, to supply poorer nations. However, as mentioned in the World Bank’s 2021 Global Economics Prospects report, ‘To overcome the impacts of the pandemic and counter the investment headwind, there needs to be a major push to improve business environments, increase labour and product market flexibility, and strengthen transparency and governance’. 

So, we are only at the start of the road to recovering to the pre-Covid economic climate but vaccines are definitely good start.