Manila Bulletin

Cross-na­tional ac­ces­si­bil­ity of COVID vac­cines – na­tion­al­ism ver­sus mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism

- (Zha Dao­jiong is a pro­fes­sor in the School of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, In­sti­tute of South-South Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment, Pek­ing Univer­sity.) ZHA DAO­JIONG

V(Part II)

ac­cine na­tion­al­ism, mean­while, has its his­tor­i­cal prece­dent. To deal with the H1N1 pan­demic in 2009-2010, a small num­ber of de­vel­oped economies chose to bond with each other on the merit of re­search and pay­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, with a few even hoard­ing suc­cess­ful vac­cines. De­vel­op­ing economies were of­fered the prod­uct only af­ter de­ploy­ment needs had been met in de­vel­oped ones, by which time the pan­demic had come to an end. There re­sulted a sur­plus and waste of vac­cines. As such, vac­cine na­tion­al­ism can be a dou­ble-edged sword.

COVID-19 is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent chal­lenge, un­prece­dented in one cen­tury. Economies will be tempted to en­sure and ex­pand do­mes­tic ca­pac­i­ties of vac­cine pro­duc­tion. But a sce­nario can­not be ruled out whereby curbs are im­posed on global move­ment of ma­te­ri­als for vac­cine in­gre­di­ents, pack­ag­ing, and in­jec­tion. That will be an­other form of vac­cine na­tion­al­ism. Af­ter all, cross­na­tional flow of vac­cine prod­ucts is a com­po­nent of in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion in trade and in­vest­ment, which comes with its share of fric­tions and con­flicts over prod­uct brand­ing and ex­tended eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests.

In the real world, pub­lic health is a sphere in which geopo­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated ma­neu­ver­ing takes place. Pro­cure­ment of a vac­cine, when a prod­uct’s na­tion­al­ity be­comes a core choice fac­tor, can be­come yet an­other man­i­fes­ta­tion of vac­cine na­tion­al­ism. For a pro­cure­ment de­ci­sion to be made with­out due re­gard to sci­en­tific facts be­hind patho­bi­ol­ogy would be against com­mon sense in ther­a­peu­tic terms. It might earn some mo­men­tary gains in po­lit­i­cal ma­neu­ver­ing but amount to ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity to­wards cit­i­zens so af­fected.

Ac­cord­ing to pub­li­cized in­for­ma­tion, in the Covax Fa­cil­ity, China is not go­ing to re­ceive pref­er­en­tial treat­ment when it comes to per unit price of par­tic­i­pat­ing vac­cines, reflecting the fact that its per capita in­come is in the up­per level of mid­dle in­come economies. But China stands to have an op­por­tu­nity to func­tion as both a prod­uct sup­plier and pur­chaser un­der the plat­form, es­pe­cially in the event of do­mes­tic prod­uct fall­ing short of meet­ing de­mand. As a sup­plier, join­ing group ne­go­ti­a­tion can help save time and hu­man re­source in­put that comes with re­ly­ing on bi­lat­eral chan­nels.

A mul­ti­lat­eral ar­range­ment for COVID vac­cine dis­tri­bu­tion, mean­while, should not be viewed as a con­fronta­tion with acts of vac­cine na­tion­al­ism. The pre­vail­ing COVID-19 chal­lenges are such that spread of the virus pays no re­gard to an in­di­vid­ual’s na­tion­al­ity, na­tion-state bound­aries, or gaps in ag­gre­gate or in­di­vid­ual ca­pac­ity to af­ford a prod­uct. The sooner and the more so­ci­eties reach the stage of herd im­mu­nity through ef­fec­tive im­mu­niza­tion by vac­ci­na­tion, the greater for re­al­iza­tion of hope for trade and travel to re­store nor­malcy among var­i­ous economies. In this sense, prac­tices of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism in vac­cine ac­cess and af­ford­abil­ity are also in line with pro­tect­ing an econ­omy’s own pub­lic health se­cu­rity.

As a mat­ter of fact, many na­tions, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the Euro­pean Union, have opted to join mul­ti­lat­eral vac­cine ar­range­ments, in ad­di­tion to pur­su­ing bi­lat­eral means of prod­uct ac­qui­si­tion.

The world’s search for eti­o­log­i­cal ori­gins of the COVID-19 virus is still un­der way. Whether or not fu­ture de­mand for a COVID vac­cine will evap­o­rate, like that in the wake of the SARS pan­demic in 2002-2003, re­mains an un­known as well.

All in all, the world is wit­ness­ing a race be­tween vac­cine na­tion­al­ism and mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism. Be­ing part of a mul­ti­lat­eral ar­range­ment is one way to pre­pare for mul­ti­ple fu­ture sce­nar­ios.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines