As the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, a new kind of imperialism has taken root. In what is being termed ‘vaccine nationalism’, developed countries are hoarding on excess vaccines as the developing world struggles with a slow vaccination rollout given limited availability for them. To tackle this, the foreign ministers of Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have issued a statement for vaccines to be distributed with “principle of equity and justice”.
Moreover, patent protection and intellectual property laws give exclusive rights to the US, Canada, Japan and European countries over numerous vaccines as they had the resources to bankroll vaccine development. Consequently, even though many developing countries like ours — which may have the capacity to produce Covid vaccines on a large scale — are left to rely on either developing their own vaccine, the Covax programme, bilateral aid or purchase of vaccines directly from the manufacturer at exorbitant prices and delays. To battle this out, China seems to be winning at vaccine diplomacy as it continues to provide medical aid and vaccines to countries in need. Hypocritically, in April 2020, the US had demanded of India to allow hydroxychloroquine exports or face consequences. Now as India is struggling through its worst Covid wave, the US has only allowed sending vaccine raw material for local production. And even though Washington was to debate on a patent waiver, no progress has been made so far.
The impact of this inequality is visible as the developed world has completely vaccinated one in every four people, while the Global South has barely managed to vaccinate one in 500, according to the WHO. The longer the vaccine rollout takes the chances of a mutated vaccine-resistant version spreading globally increases, taking us all back to square one. The developed world needs to realise that sitting on vaccines and just protecting its own populations is not very wise as the economic and medical repercussions of an unvaccinated Global South will be felt the world over.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2021.