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Current Affairs

Vaccine nationalism

Date: 20 August 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

Even before the end of final stage human trials or regulatory approval, several wealthier countries like Britain, France, Germany and the US have entered into pre-purchase agreements with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers, a development that has come to be known as “vaccine nationalism”.

 

Background

World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that nations that hoard possible Covid-19 vaccines while excluding others would deepen the pandemic. 

 

Details

  • When a country manages to secure doses of vaccines for its own citizens or residents and prioritises its own domestic markets before they are made available in other countries it is known as ‘vaccine nationalism’. 

  • There are fears that such advance agreements will make the initial few vaccines unaffordable and inaccessible to everyone apart from the rich countries in a world.

  • To bring about equitable and broad access, WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi have come up with an initiative known as “Covax Facility”.

  • The facility aims to procure at least two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of next year for deployment and distribution mainly in the low- and middle-income countries.

  • The present race to hoard Covid-19 vaccines harks back to a similar situation that happened in 2009 during the H1N1 flu pandemic.

  • Australia, the first country to come up with a vaccine, blocked exports while some of the wealthiest countries entered into pre-purchase agreements with several pharmaceutical companies.

  • It was only when the H1N1 pandemic began to recede that developed countries offered to donate vaccine doses to poorer economies. However, it must be noted that H1N1 was a milder disease and its impact was far lesser than Covid-19.

  • Interestingly, even though vaccine nationalism runs against global public health principles, there are no provisions in international laws that prevent pre-purchase agreements.

  • The major drawback of vaccine nationalism is that it puts countries with fewer resources and bargaining power at a disadvantage. Thus, if countries with a large number of cases lag in obtaining the vaccine, the disease will continue to disrupt global supply chains and, as a result, economies around the world.

  • The alternative to arrest vaccine nationalism is global collaboration, which is being done through the WHO-backed COVAX Facility mechanism. 

  • The countries which join the initiative are assured supply of vaccines whenever they become successful. Moreover, the countries will get assured supplies to protect at least 20 percent of their populations.