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