Global Vaccine Politics: Tale of an Unjust and Unfair Game Abdullah Al Mahmud

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As the delta variant rages worldwide, the world faces serious vaccine shortages. After millions of deaths and an ongoing war of nineteen months, nations continue to grapple over a mechanism for ensuring the equitable distribution of vaccines. The state of the global vaccination agenda is quite worrisome, as the gap in vaccine availability between the developed and developing countries widens day-by-day. It suddenly reminds us of a tragedy in a post war battlefield where each and every wounded solder seeks for immediate medical care and the highest amount of medical attention are bestowed upon the ones who are comparatively better (less injured) than their counterpart solders causing very wounded soldiers facing death before they were even treated. The same thing is now happening worldwide. The global elites and super powers who already consume the best possible healthcare in the world are the big chunk sharer of the global vaccine doses, whereas the poor African & Asian countries are still millions a mile away from mass vaccination. As of the data shown by the Science magazine, as per the report published in May 2021, 85% of the total (global share) doses of vaccines administered have been gifted to the middle and rich income countries where people already have a better standards of living and access to health than their developing and poor countries’ counterparts.
Now, what went wrong with the vaccination campaigns worldwide that it is suddenly labelled as “vaccine politics”? No such thing can be of national or international importance without being shrewd with the edge of politics. An event as impactful as the pandemic was always going to be politicized; leveraged for the global power gain, superiority, and influence over other countries.
The war against this deadly SARS2 virus comes hand-in-hand with an international propaganda war ranging from north axis to the south. Covid-19 vaccines are not just coveted as the medical protection from this deadly SARS2 virus, it’s now used as a currency in the global influence market with each dominant and tech-advanced countries making their own moves irrespective of the global necessity. The vaccines have been taught as a battling tool for global influence among China, Russia, and presumably the US; with Russia being held back due to its lack of mass production. Untill the February/ March of 2021, the production of the covid vaccines seems to be the only challenge to the world which currently sit behind the challenge of equitable availability of the doses. “Getting these vaccines into the arms of billions of people is now the most pressing challenge for the international community. This is, in a manner of speaking, the ‘new arms race’,” according to The Soufan Center, a research body.
From the political aspect of the pandemic, global power elites like United States, China, Russia, and United Kingdom are able to use the vaccines distribution saga for their respective political gain. Vaccine nationalism inside each of the own territory of the aforementioned countries is employed to gain internal political influence and wield power among their national populations, as well as against other countries, while vaccine diplomacy is used to deduct the coronavirus-induced tensions and to curry a favour among their potential or existing allies.
On the other side of the parallel universe, less developed countries are facing a different set of problems, wherein their acute vulnerability to economic downturns caused by lockdowns around the world, and their lack of a proper infrastructure to deal with such a health crisis were already threats to their populations.
This is exacerbated through a phenomena such as vaccine hoarding, wherein only the wealthiest and most powerful countries reserve the bulk of the life-saving vaccines being produced. Although internationalist movement like COVAX, aimed at maintaining a global partnership parity for equitable covid vaccines for each country, had initially been welcomed by the powerhouses of the global politics; It later saw a blander coming from the vaccine-producing countries. Thus so the urge of the globalization, each one being treated equally and equitably, got faded and least developed countries since then fighting this pandemic on their own, should I rightly say.
If this pandemic were a chess game, then China would be the true champions of it even after conceding all the covid controversies and hates. China is the only country that happens to be the only amicable ally to most of the African and southern countries. Bertrand Badie, a professor for international relations at Sciences-Po university in Paris, thus commented “China managed to present itself as a champion of the southern countries at a time when the north showed complete selfishness,”. They were showering the African and southern countries with the medical kits and tools including masks, PPE, globes and so on. And, when they marketized the covid-19 vaccines, they ensured that every country who asked for the vaccines get the adequate doses irrespective of the demanding countries global influence. Some countries have been given the covid l doses and medical kits for free. Some 200,000 doses each went to Algeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe, 500,000 to Pakistan and 750,000 to the Dominican Republic – all of these countries weren’t even in the list for getting the “elite vaccine”. Although it might be taught as a “check mate” by China against the existing dominant power of the US in these countries for the future use of them.
The artificial scarcity of the COVID-19 vaccines isn’t the only thing that’s creating this vaccine hoax, there is a big factor theme called “vaccine nationalism” which also creating a more complicated world order currently and for the world to come. The two arch powerhouses of the current vaccine politics – the US and the UK – are spreading a vaccine nationalism through their availability or abundance of the doses. Mostly the right wing politicians in these two countries are stick to their political “egomaniac orthodoxy” that led to not supporting the bill that allows the domestic pharmaceutical companies to sell/export their vaccine doses to foreign “in need” countries. Isn’t that a bit whimsical that they are now restricting themselves as if they were never taken care of by these “in need” countries? Given the fact that these two countries were the sole propellers of the globalization and free trade, market. Therefore, a comedian once threw a joke like this: “so, these two twin brothers literally absorbed almost every natural resources of these poor, once-colonized countries whose people are now dying of this tiny little virus, not by any gigantic monster, and the twin brothers are now acting blind and deaf?”
But maybe It’s the scariest true part of the history that the elite forces don’t ever payback to their underprivileged counterparts. Furthermore, significant testing for vaccines takes place in developing and least developed countries, which has often invoked an “ethical debate”, including criticism of individuals in these countries being used as “human guinea pigs”, with a natural claim that their lives are dispensable too and countries where these trials have been experimented should be the priorities for getting the vaccines. We probably still remember the African countries’ being used as the testing lab for any newer medical breakthrough over the decades. Yet the troll on human life’s valuation goes unheeded. The larger part of the Coronavac testing has taken place in Brazil, with the New York Times calling the country the “ideal vaccine laboratory”.
How strangely does this vaccine hoarding really affect least developed or developing countries like Bangladesh? As of this writing, Bangladesh has not claimed a remarkable progress in the vaccination campaigns with the authorities’ lacking to provide the adequate amounts of the vaccines for the people. Even the policy makers at various research firms argue that if the country could make a undeniable impact to grab vaccines for the people in the March – June span, then the death toll due to the delta variant might have stopped way before it started because of a mass immunity boosting caused by it. Had the country afforded to have right amount of doses in the right time, would this pandemic already have been halted. Policy makers also don’t deny the fact that vaccine politics isn’t an easy deal to initiate, at least for Bangladesh, wherein the big dominant forces are defying to make it flexible and feasible for every country.
The class division will always be relevant in human civilization. But, creating a mass atmosphere of unjust and unequal position of “who gets what and how much” in a time when we’re constantly fed with globalization propaganda is way too luxury for us to digest. These go-on attitudes of the power elites are residual from imperial narratives about the “family of civilized nations”, with those not meeting the “standard of civilization” being barbaric; or as some of them dare to say: subhuman. These hegemonic narratives can subconsciously spillover into real-life policies regarding global vaccine distribution, risking a status quo wherein wealthy states are able to hoard vaccines as much as they want while countries in the Global South are left waiting and sometime, unheeded. With a global pandemic like this, we got to know what’s inside of this fake globalization and what’s for us if we continue to inhale their polluted air.