The phrase of vaccine nationalism has entered our lexicon during H1N1 pandemic 2009, but was sparingly used. But vaccine nationalism, has emerged as a real threat for our ability to collectively end the COVID-19 pandemic.
So what is vaccine nationalism?
Vaccine nationalism involves countries securing doses of vaccine for its own citizens or residents through pre-purchase agreements with vaccine manufacturers and some impose restrictions on their manufacturers in order to serve their country first.
This leaves out lower and middle income countries who don’t have financial muscle or vaccine manufacturing capabilities.
We saw vaccine nationalism play out a decade back as well, during the H1N1 pandemic.
“Some countries say vaccine produced in my country, are only for my citizens. There are very few countries that produce the vaccine. Many people will be denied vaccines, and everybody will lose. As long as this virus is not under control in every single country, it will not be under control,” Peter Piot, renowned virologist and Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in a recent conference held by ICMR.
Piot is a special advisor to Ursula von der Leyen, President of European Commission on the response to COVID-19.
European Commission has raised 10 billion euros ($11.2 billion) for the development and deployment of vaccines, which includes supporting countries worst hit by COVID-19 pandemic.
Piot says COVID-19 is not only a scientific challenge or public health challenge, but will probably be one of the biggest geo-political issues of our time.
“Because the countries that have first access to vaccines, protect their population from this pandemic will have a major advantage, economically, politically and strategically. So that’s why it is so important that we have the dialogue,” Piot says.
Vaccine nationalism is particularly dangerous at a time, World Health Organisation (WHO) that’s supposed to provide leadership is facing problems with questions raised over its initial handling of COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent move by the US – the largest donor to cut funding and exit the multilateral organisation.
Despite these challenges, there were effort to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines.
Seventy-five countries have submitted expressions of interest to protect their populations and those of other nations through joining the COVAX Facility, a mechanism designed to guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.
COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO, working in partnership with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers.
The 75 countries, which would finance the vaccines from their own public finance budgets, partner with up to 90 lower-income countries that could be supported through voluntary donations to Gavi’s COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC).
Together, this group of up to 165 countries represents more than 60 percent of the world’s population. Among the group are representatives from every continent and more than half of the world’s G20 economies.
The goal of COVAX is by the end of 2021 to deliver two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines. These vaccines will be delivered equally to all participating countries, proportional to their populations, initially prioritising healthcare workers then expanding to cover 20 percent of the population of participating countries. Further doses will then be made available based on country need, vulnerability and COVID-19 threat.
The COVAX Facility will also maintain a buffer of doses for emergency and humanitarian use, including dealing with severe outbreaks before they spiral out of control.
The COVAX Facility forms a key part of the COVAX pillar (COVAX) of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.
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