FAQ: What Is Vaccine Nationalism? Why Is WHO Criticising It?

Why are countries being criticised for securing vaccine?

2 min read
Why are countries being criticised for securing vaccine? Image used for representation.

In a press briefing on 20 August, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issuing a last-ditch call for countries to join a global vaccine pact and refrain from vaccine nationalism.

"We need to prevent vaccine nationalism. Sharing finite supplies strategically and globally is actually in each country’s national interest,” said Ghebreyesus.

What exactly is ‘vaccine nationalism’? Why is it being criticised by WHO? Read on.

What is vaccine nationalism?

When developed countries or nations with more money strike pre-purchase deals with pharma companies to buy vaccines when the trials prove successful, it is called 'vaccine nationalism.'

In most cases, the deals are struck between them to ensure that the vaccine is available to their country before the rest of the world.

This comes at a time when several pharma companies, across the world, are racing to produce a vaccine for COVID-19 pandemic.

Which countries have already secured deals?

As per a report by London-based analytics firm Airfinity, the US, UK, European Union and Japan have so far secured about 1.3 billion doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines.

The countries have already struck deals with Pfizer Inc, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca Plc, even before they can produce an authentic vaccine.

The US has reportedly agreed to buy some 800 million doses from six drugmakers, and the UK 280 million from five. The EU has negotiated for buying at least 300 million doses of the Oxford University vaccine candidate.

Why are countries being criticised for securing vaccine?

This is important because developing countries and nations with limited resources will be in a disadvantageous position. If only some countries have access to vaccine, the other countries’ fight against COVID-19 will be disrupted.

“If you were to try to vaccinate the entire US, (and) the entire EU, for example, with two doses of vaccine – then you’d get to about 1.7 billion doses. And if that is the number of doses that’s available, there’s not a lot left for others. If a handful, or even 30 or 40 countries have vaccines, but more than 150 others don’t, then the epidemic will rage there,” Seth Berkley, chief executive of the GAVI alliance told Reuters.

What is the solution for this?

The alternative against vaccine nationalism is global collaboration – which the WHO says can be achieved by the organisation-backed COVAX Facility mechanism.

The countries who join the initiative are assured supply of vaccines by the WHO, whenever they become successful. These countries will also have supplies to protect at least 20 percent of their population.

Where does India stand?

In an interview with Hindustan Times on Friday, 21 August, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan said that India is working on the “details of the procurement plan”. No formal announcement has been made with this regard yet.

“The details of the procurement plan are being developed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, but it is important to note that India has the world’s largest vaccine manufacturing industrial base that provides two-thirds of childhood vaccines used across the world,” Vardhan told the newspaper.

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