Vaccine Nationalism and its Impacts

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Context: As the world is gearing up for COVID-19 vaccination. The World Health Organisation (WHO) cautioned against 'vaccine nationalism' and held that it is in everybody's self-interest to take an equitable approach to vaccine distribution and deployment.

Mains: GS IV- Ethical conundrum of Vaccine Nationalism

What is Vaccine Nationalism?
  • 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’.
  • This is done through pre-purchase agreements between a government and a vaccine manufacturer.
  • For example, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and the European Union have spent tens of billions of dollars on deals with vaccine front runners such as Pfizer Inc, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca Plc even before their effectiveness is proven.
Vaccine Nationalism: Past experience
  • 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. The US alone obtained the right to buy 600,000 doses.
  • 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.
Impact of Vaccine Nationalism
  • Inaccessibility: Such pre agreements will make the initial few vaccines unaffordable and inaccessible to poor and developing countries
  • Economic slowdown: 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.
  • Health crisis: Hoarding Covid-19 vaccines while excluding others would deepen the health crisis due to pandemic.
Is there any law to prevent Vaccine Nationalism?
  • Even though vaccine nationalism runs against global public health principles, there are no provisions in international laws that prevent pre-purchase agreements.
Alternative Path: Global Collaboration
  • WHO-backed COVAX Facility mechanism
    • 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.
    • So far, more than 170 countries have expressed interest: about 90 low- and middle-income countries and 80 fully self-financing countries.
    • The countries who join the initiative are assured supply of vaccines whenever they become successful. 
    • Moreover, the countries will get assured supplies to protect at least 20 per cent of their populations.

What is COVAX Facility?

  • COVAX is the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator The ACT Accelerator is a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.
  • COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO
  • Aims:
    • To accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
  • Significance:
    • The COVAX facility is functioning alongside manufacturers and governments to make sure the effective COVID vaccine is out there worldwide to both higher-income and lower-income countries.
    • It will ensure equitable access to the coronavirus vaccines by pooling buying power from participating economies and providing volume guarantees from a variety of promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
    • The COVAX facility will enable vaccine manufacturers with higher expertise in large scale production of the new vaccines to form early at-risk investments in manufacturing capacity.
  • Benefits for participating nations:
    • The COVAX facility will ensure all the participating nations the simplest chance of gaining fast access to doses of the foremost effective COVID-19 vaccine.
    • The collaboration will accelerate the event and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines for each country within the world.
  • Target:
    • The COVAX facility targets to deliver a minimum of two billion doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine that has passed required regulatory approval by the top of 2021.
    • The vaccine will be offered to all nations in equal proportion to their population.
    • The doses are going to be later made available supported the country's need and vulnerability to the COVID-19 threat.

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