Vaccine Nationalism: a global campaign to end the pandemic

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Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the authors and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management/ editorial team or those of fellow authors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the world and on all of our lives thus far,  from lockdowns, quarantining and social distancing to various forms of restrictions that have altered the way we live our lives and how we perceive life itself. Global efforts have been made to ensure that vaccines are manufactured, and vaccine rollout has been considerably successful in the UK and other Western countries. Yet the majority of the world’s nations are yet to receive a considerable number of doses, preventing the end of the pandemic. Thus, the question remains, when will all of this be over?

Why is Global Cooperation Important?

The initial rollout of the vaccine has resulted in the majority of doses developed being bought by many of the first world countries. The vaccine scramble meant that in early 2021, 90% of the vaccine supply was administered to only 15 of the wealthiest countries which in result left a considerable number of low to middle income countries without vaccines (Fore and Denton, 2021). Whereas it has been made clear by experts and officials that this is a global issue that requires a global solution. Therefore, there needs to be a more cohesive effort to ensure that individuals in all countries are receiving doses so that the pandemic can end. There are still many restrictions on travel and guidelines to follow, particularly when we leave the country, which illustrates we are still not in the clear.

The impact of the virus in developing countries has been severe, where there are vulnerable health systems, staff shortages in hospitals, and remaining effects from previous viruses such as Malaria, Ebola, and HIV. This has affected the societies in these countries, as many individuals have informal work and the governments are less than equipped in providing social and fiscal support.  

It has been mentioned that until the pandemic is under control everywhere, we are not safe. The virus will continue to spread and mutate, delaying the end of the pandemic (Berkley, 2021). The purchase of vaccines by high and middle income countries for their own use is illustrated through vaccine nationalism, which is defined as countries following their national interest in purchasing and distributing vaccines domestically, rather than perceiving the virus as the global issue that it is and working collectively to ensure the pandemic is overcome.

Currently the case is that a coordinated effort and commitment by many nations is still weak, and the end is yet to come with the virus (Hafner et al., 2020). The effects of vaccine nationalism appears costly, where the RAND corporation illustrates that in a situation where lower income countries do not have vaccine access there will be a $153billion loss for the world economy (Hafner et al., 2020 pg.3) notwithstanding the millions in preventable deaths.

Current Global Efforts:

Under the Gavi vaccine alliance, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) the vaccine programme COVAX facility was founded in April 2020 to ensure that there is equitable access to vaccines and to inhibit barriers to access (‘COVAX Facility Explainer’, 2020). Countries of high, middle, and low income have been able to join to help fund and receive vaccines respectively. The facility will provide a number of vaccines to lower and middle income countries through their own mechanisms. As of 28th May COVAX has successfully shipped 76 million vaccines to 126 countries (COVAX vaccine roll-out, 2021) and has been exceptionally successful.

A number of countries, including Australia, France, India, Norway, Portugal, and Romania have also pledged to donate vaccines (J. Artz, 2021). The United States vowed to provide a total of 80 million vaccines to other nations in order to combat the virus (J. Greve, 2021) allowing an improvement to the situation. Countries of medium and low and middle income have been receiving a small number of doses of the vaccine, although studies show that despite the efforts these countries have low levels of vaccinations administered which could prevent the future spread of the virus.

The data below illustrates that there is a clear disparity between different regions in vaccine rollout. The majority of vaccines that have been administered are predominantly in the global North, where the majority of the world’s population is  yet to receive the first dose. This can be increasingly concerning in due time. 

Above: The Share of people vaccinated against Covid in each continent. Source: Our World in Data. 

Issues and Complications:

Vaccines are crucial to the prevention of the severe infection and hospitalisation. In order to prevent severe forms of the virus, herd immunity has been known to only be effective where 95% of the population has immunity to the disease (gavi.org, 2020). The increase in the number of variants is also crucial to note due to the severity of the symptoms which has increased death rates. Therefore, the growing number of variants around the world creates increasing concern, as long as COVID-19is not being managed, there will be new mutations developed throughout the world that pose a threat to the safety of billions.

Newer strains of the virus could infect those who were/are predisposed to older strains, spreading more quickly, being more infectious, and can result in dire consequences. This has considerable effect in lower income countries due to their vulnerable health systems, health staff shortages, and complications with social provisions due to their economic situations. However, the current number of variants are protected by vaccines that are being administered (hopkinsmedicine.org, 2021). Mutations will continue to happen and the threat of the virus will continue to loom, which means that it is crucial that international vaccine rollout is taken seriously.

Concluding Thoughts:

It is paramount that world leaders and developed nations commit to combatting the pandemic as a global issue. The current pandemic appears to be a threat to the lives and livelihoods of billions and will continue to do so for years to come. The support of the COVAX facility and other efforts need to be coordinated by world leaders in order to ensure that the new variants do not result in millions of preventable deaths and great economic losses globally.

References:

Berkley, S. (2021) Vaccine nationalism will leave everyone more at risk of coronavirus, New Scientist. Available at: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24933201-800-vaccine-nationalism-will-leave-everyone-more-at-risk-of-coronavirus/ (Accessed: 30 May 2021).

‘COVAX Facility Explainer’ (2020). Gavi.org. Available at: https://www.gavi.org/covax- facility#what.

COVAX vaccine roll-out (2021) gavi.org. Available at: https://www.gavi.org/covax-vaccine-roll-out (Accessed: 30 May 2021).

E. Matheiu, H. Ritchie, and E. Ortiz-Ospina (2021) A global database of COVID-19 vaccinations, Our World in Data. Available at: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations (Accessed: 30 May 2021).

Hafner, M. et al. (2020) The global economic cost of COVID-19 vaccine nationalism. RAND Corporation. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep27756 (Accessed: 30 May 2021).

Henrietta Fore and John Denton (2021) The vaccine scramble that risks leaving everyone behind, UNICEF Connect. Available at: https://blogs.unicef.org/blog/the-vaccine-scramble-that-risks-leaving-everyone-behind/ (Accessed: 30 May 2021).

J. Artz (2021) These 6 Countries Have Pledged to Donate WHO-Approved COVID-19 Vaccines, Global Citizen. Available at: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/covid-19-vaccine-donations-around-the-world/ (Accessed: 30 May 2021).

J. Greve (2021) Biden vows to send 20m doses of US-approved Covid vaccines overseas, the Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/may/17/biden-20m-doses-covid-vaccines-overseas (Accessed: 30 May 2021).

New Variants of Coronavirus: What You Should Know (2021) hopkinsmedicine.org. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/a-new-strain-of-coronavirus-what-you-should-know (Accessed: 30 May 2021).

What is herd immunity? (2020) gavi.org. Available at: https://www.gavi.org/vaccineswork/what-herd-immunity (Accessed: 30 May 2021).

By Sarah

Sarah is studying a MSc in International Public Policy. Interested in Iranian foreign and domestic politics. She is passionate about foreign policy, human rights, and ethics.

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