O People! Make way for the latest horrendous development of the infamous year 2020. We have straight out of the oven, the freshest item on the menu of ethical conundrums “Vaccine Nationalism”.
It seems like the cure is as dangerous as people dying of the COVID-19. Currently, according to the WHO, six vaccines have reached phase 3 trials, while 25 vaccines are in the clinical evaluation phase and 139 in pre-clinical evaluation.
When the pandemic hit different parts of the world, the first response of the humans was to attack supermarkets and hoard loads of groceries (yes, toilet papers too). Vaccine Nationalism is just analogous to hoarding toilet papers, except, it’s just a phenomenon that occurs when rich countries pay for vaccines in advance and hoard them. Don’t worry politicians are not doing what they did not promise: remember ‘America first?’ and ‘India first?’
A global initiative by WHO – ACT (Access to COVID-19 Tools) Accelerator- aims at a cumulative process of R&D, manufacturing, regulatory, purchasing and procurement needed to fight against COVID-19. Unfortunately, the USA, Russia, India, and China did not receive the initiative with much-needed enthusiasm. The WHO also came up with another program called COVAX facility, that aims to provide 2 billion doses of vaccine by the end of the next year for middle and low-income countries.
The US compared its operation ‘Warp speed’ to the oxygen masks dropping during the flights. Russia tried to jump ahead, attempting to create a Sputnik moment. Russian President announced Russia curated the first COVID-19 vaccine called Sputnik V. The vaccines are still under trials and need much more necessary testing to work. Safe to say, Russia’s plan backfired earning them international scorn.
Vaccine nationalism will lead to global dysfunction. Rich countries will benefit as they can bid for the vaccine at high prices. Such high prices will lead to a disaster for the low-income countries, adding to their already deficient health care. These desperate countries will have no choice but to buy vaccines driving their economies in an even worse condition. Additionally, a single country having a vaccine will not help the problem in any way at all. Some nations have already gambled their chances of acquiring vaccines by speaking against other countries.
The unethical practice of Vaccine Nationalism is not at all unexpected. A bid against humanity is not entirely new. Similar responses were noted in 2009 when the world H1N1 flu crisis hit. Australia came up with a vaccine and sold 6,00,00 doses to the USA, blocking the exports to other countries. Once the effect of flu started diminishing, rich countries donated the vaccines to low-income nations. A similar situation happened in 2014 when the EBOLA crisis hit.
Politics aside, scientists are staying out of it and trying to work together for greater good. Instead of publishing research papers they are working collaboratively throughout the world. We must not forget that finding a cure or a significant role can earn a lot of scientists, assets, reputation, and promotions. Some lure away and are suspicious of sharing their work as well.
When the search for a vaccine against such deadly disease mutates into a naked display of Vaccine Nationalism, Indian Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s view on nationalism becomes an antidote. He believed in an idea of nationalism without borders. Tagore once described in a letter to his friend AM Bose that “the value of patriotism can never be greater than the value of humanity.”
It is a human tendency to compete and nature supports the fittest. How fit is it though to use strong nations’ ability to bully other unequipped nations? How generous is it to help others when they don’t even need help anymore? How ethical and moral is to block vaccine procurement for other countries for monetary and economic benefits?
These are some of the questions lost in the drumbeats of Vaccine Nationalism which is echoing across the continents. It's high time that concerned citizens should demand answers from their respective government to come clean on the real motive behind the call for developing a vaccine for global pandemic in a silo, when it actually needs global cooperation.