Vaccines and Nationalism: A Hazardous Concoction

Considering the humongous impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the world in the previous months, it would be hard to find a precedent of similar proportions in world history. As we move to a phase where concrete solutions have begun to take shape, especially in the form of vaccines, it is essential that the world does not let forces, barring medical ones, inhibit the smooth culmination of a dark chapter.  

98,180,233 human beings. Grouped together, the number of COVID-affected individuals would form the 15th largest country in the world in terms of population. To give you a fair idea of the scale being referred to, the United Kingdom has a population of 67,886,011 individuals. The Coronavirus pandemic and its origins, implications, ramifications shall be analysed and debated upon for years to come. But what we know at the moment is that its influence ballooned courtesy of a bunch of administrative errors – triggered by a few national governments, international organizations and their actions, or rather, the lack of them.

Transitioning to a prolonged stage of what seems to be the business end of the pandemic, we cannot let similar administrative errors strengthen the pandemic’s impact yet again. And observing the prevalence of vaccine nationalism across the world, it would be necessary to accept that the world is walking on thin ice.  

With a limited number of vaccine doses available for sale and use, high-income countries are buying large amounts of the same, as well as negotiating bulk deliveries in advance, thus pushing low-income countries out of the picture and creating a space of inequitable distribution of doses. As of now, distribution of doses has been large, if not entirely based on the purchasing power of countries and not on the percentage of affected cases or the existence of high-risk (densely populated) areas. 

Image Caption: Vaccine inequity is apparent.
Image Credits: Mrigank Shail, Twitter

In a gist, countries are prioritising their own interests and their own people. And while doing so is not wrong, it needs to be understood that there exists a huge disparity between the number of available doses and the number of people who need it, with there being some countries who need them more than others. Had there been enough vaccines, a “country first” wouldn’t have created a sticky situation since every country would have been accounted for. Since this is not the case, decisions regarding the distribution of doses require a “world-first” approach. And these decisions need to be taken by scientists and doctors, not by politicians. 

In an article for Harvard Business Review, titled “The Dangers of Vaccine Nationalism,” Rebecca Weintraub, Asaf Bitton and Mark L. Rosenberg opine –

“This ‘vaccine nationalism’ is not only morally reprehensible, but it is also the wrong way to reduce transmission globally. And global transmission matters: If countries with a large number of cases lag in obtaining the vaccine and other medicines, the disease will continue to disrupt global supply chains and, as a result, economies around the world. In the midst of this global pandemic, we must leverage our global governance bodies to allocate, distribute, and verify the delivery of the Covid 19 vaccine.”

Vaccine nationalism has two sides, the one mentioned above, and the other being the practice of giving premature approvals to indigenously-developed vaccines. To give you an example, “Covaxin,” a vaccine developed in India by Bharat Biotech was green-lighted by the government for “restricted” public usage even though large-scale trials were yet to be conducted.

Clinical trials require three phases of testing, and apparently, Covaxin went through only two. Incomplete testing and accelerated authorizations might lead to a less accurate estimation of the vaccine’s efficacy or even the failure of recognizing possibly harmful side effects. Russia and China have also resorted to large-scale usage of vaccines which did not go through the standard testing procedure and duration. 

Tackling a virus which put the entire globe on a standstill allows a very minuscule margin of error. Understanding the gravity of the state of affairs is essential, and so is the prioritisation of global interests over national and political ones. At this juncture, the discussion over a particular decision related to the inhibition of the pandemic should not involve any factors apart from medical ones, and certainly not political ones. But looking at the recent actions of governments, the world is staring at a long walk to restoration.

Featured Image Credits: Financial Times

Araba Kongbam



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