Vaccine Nationalism is a Thing and Here’s Why it’s Concerning

As the world races to find a proper cure to COVID-19, the World Health Organisation has warned against the dangers of “vaccine nationalism”. This particularly points out to richer countries that if they were to keep treatments to themselves, they wouldn’t be able to stay completely safe for as long as less developed nations still remain exposed. Sadly enough, it’s a “dog-eat-dog world” when it comes to finding that cure. Instead of working together to create a worldwide strategy, a significant number of nations are already taking the “our nation first” path in having a potential solution. Here’s why vaccine nationalism calls for concern, and why it might mean a longer wait for an end to the virus (sigh).

If everything around us wasn’t causing enough fear and anxiety already, the ideal dream of global health organisations bulk-buying vaccines and equally distributing them around the world like the happy ending to a sci-fi movie may not be the reality. Several wealthier nations have already decided to go for it alone, sealing large money deals with promising pharmaceutical companies to guarantee doses for their own citizens. Notable nations being the US, Russia, India, the UK, and countries in the EU. All with renowned pharmaceutical firms with the likes of BioNtech, AstraZeneca, or Pfizer.

“For all our differences, we are one human race sharing the same planet and our security is interdependent – no country will be safe, until we’re all safe. I urge leaders to choose the path of cooperation and act now to end the pandemic”

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus World Health Organisation (WHO) August 6, 2020

“Us and Them”

When it comes to a global pandemic, the virus has no obsession over identity – nor does it adhere to borders. We’ve learnt that, and some countries learnt that the hard way. Hence, the term “global pandemic”. As straightforward as it may seem, the idea of vaccine nationalism however, could somehow push the “us and them” mindset we shouldn’t even have in the first place, even further.

Living in the EU, the very idea of this “us and them” mindset is already a significant scare to what is already a sensitive concern in this part of the world. Not only is the idea of vaccine nationalism morally questionable especially when borders have already failed to keep the virus out, but it will prove to be an impediment to reducing transmission rates globally. And this itself will eventually  disrupt global economies and global supply chains all the same.

But what does this mean? Should scientists and politicians in New Zealand already start thinking about citizens in EU countries? And should the politicians and scientists in Japan already think about the citizens and situation over in neighbouring South Korea? All while not forgetting about the situations in heavily populated countries like Indonesia or India? The globalist would answer yes, yes they should. With the right enough reason, too. In the midst of the pandemic, nations will need to come together with keeping in mind that first and foremost, it’s science that we need – not political agendas.

Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash

Here are a few updates to consider:

– In mid May, CEO of pharma giants Sanofi announced that the US has “the right to the largest pre-order” of a possible vaccine solely due to the large investment agreement the organisation sealed with the US in February. This was followed by backlash and protests from EU officials.

– AstraZeneca disclosed that because of the UK’s substantial investment, the first 30 million doses of a possible vaccine it’s creating with the University of Oxford will be allocated to them. At the end of May, the US announced that they would be investing as much as $1.2 billion to the pharma big boys to make sure they get a minimum of 300 million doses (which are expected to be delivered in October).

–  In mid March, further dispute between nations erupted after it was reported that US president Donald Trump had attempted to persuade German pharmaceutical research organisation CureVac (one of the leading firms developing a vaccine) to move from Germany to the US.

– Lastly, several EU nations together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reported that they had committed a large sum of money to help finance Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) which are dedicated to rapid deployment of new Coronavirus fighting tech solutions. However, economic powerhouses such as the US, Russia, and India have decided to not participate in this particular initiative.

Purchasing powers and problems

Sadly, this concern isn’t anything new – and we’ve actually gone through a very similar case back in 2009 when the world was fighting the H1N1 flu pandemic. Wealthier nations acquired what was then the limited supply of vaccines which initially left poorer countries without the opportunity for quite some time.

Despite the fact that the wealthier nations agreed to make much needed vaccine donations to lower income countries, it was only done after ensuring that they cover their own populations first. To conclude, the distribution of the H1N1 vaccine was pretty much based on high-income nations’ purchasing powers, and not based on the risk of transmission.

In an interview with Reuters, Seth Berkley, the chief executive of the GAVI alliance (who co-leads a scheme designed to secure the rapid and fair global access to COVID-19 vaccines), stated that if wealthier nations persist on covering their entire populations – instead of sharing them across nations deemed most-at-risk, then the pandemic just wouldn’t be controlled.

If there’s anything we can get from the past, it’s that any form of extreme nationalism is just not a solution for humanity as a whole. In the midst of the pandemic, it’s time all nations grow closer and not further apart from one another. It isn’t just about philanthropy and altruism, nor is it all about political agendas – it should simply be a collaborative effort to curb the pandemic once and for all in the most sustainable way possible. As of right now, only time will tell what comes next.

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