Focus: GS-II International Relations

Introduction

  • Countries are engaging in agreements for purchase of COVID-19 vaccines at an average of more than 1 per person:
    The United States has entered into multi-billion-dollar agreements with at least six big pharmaceutical companies for assured supplies of vaccines (in development) amounting to more than two doses for every American citizen.
  • The United Kingdom has entered into similar agreements with multiple companies to secure about five doses per person.

Countries are pre-booking vaccine supplies, often throwing billions of dollars at candidate vaccines whose success as of now is uncertain, has given rise to a term called “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.

Why is ‘vaccine nationalism’ a concern?

Unavailability

  • The concerns arise from the fact that these advance agreements are likely to make the vaccine inaccessible to large parts of the world that do not have the money to bet on candidates whose success is not guaranteed.
  • Since there is limited capacity to produce a vaccine, the wait for a vaccine for countries which do not have the money to pre-book could get prolonged, because whatever is produced in the first few months or years would have to be sent to the richer countries to fulfil the contractual obligations.

Inflation

  • The Vaccines which are successful would be in great demand, especially from the countries that have entered into advance agreements that have clauses to enable increased supplies for more money.
  • It would thus drive up the prices of the vaccine, making it potentially unaffordable for a large number of countries.

Why do countries hoard vaccines?

  • To their citizens, the governments want to show how concerned they are about their safety and health, for which they want to hoard as many vaccines as they potentially can.
  • And for the international community, and also for their own public, they want to flaunt their scientific capability and expertise.

In the past

  • There have been precedents: In 2009, following an outbreak of H1N1 influenza, or swine flu, rich countries had hoarded vaccines in a way similar to the pre-booking happening now. As a result, many countries in Africa had no access to these vaccines for months.
  • Similarly, anti-retroviral drugs for the treatment of HIV patients were unavailable in Africa, the worst affected region, for several years after being developed in the 1990s.

Way Forward adopted

  • The World Health Organization (WHO), along with some other international alliances, have launched a platform called ACT (or Access to Covid19 Tools) Accelerator Programme.
  • Its objective is to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, and also therapeutics and drugs.
  • The vaccine part of the programme is called the COVAX facility.
  • COVAX is supposed to do for the world what the richer countries are doing at an individual level —invest money into the leading candidate vaccines to accelerate their development and production.
  • But it also has another important objective — to ensure that the successful vaccines are made equally accessible to all, at an affordable price.
  • It seeks to achieve this by ensuring that all participating countries are provided supplies to cover at least 20% of their populations, at a uniform price.
  • Then as more vaccine doses become available, they would be distributed to countries in proportion to their population size and the extent of the problem they face.

-Source: Indian Express

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