miércoles, 31 de marzo de 2021

COVID-19 Vacunas: Es la política...? (II) Internacionalismo


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COVID-19 Vacunas: Es la política...? (I) Nacionalismo


Economic interdependence

Nationalism does not characterize the efforts to create and distribute a vaccine in their totality. Internationalist sentiment can also be found, such as in the early days of the coronavirus, when the EU donated protective equipment to China, and later on, when China did the same for Italy. These displays of international cooperation and solidarity can be taken as evidence for a more liberal or idealist conception of international relations: not only is cooperation possible between countries; in cases such as a global pandemic, it is arguably necessary. It is rare that a country can isolate itself from the effects of the pandemic taking place in the rest of the world, as Australia and New Zealand have done. Ultimately, the fact that there is a global movement of people and products means that a country that is especially suffering from the coronavirus cannot just be left to fend for itself. This can be seen in the Kent lorry crisis, this December, which occurred at the border of the UK and France upon the announcement of the emergence of a new strain of COVID. However, it is not only the virus that can seep into a country. Given that countries are not self-sufficient, economically, and in terms of national production, a necessary corollary of international trade is that if a trade partner’s economy and production are stunted from the effects of the pandemic, it is likely this will have an adverse impact on your country too. The RAND corporation has found that vaccine nationalism can actually harm rather than benefit the countries in question: high-income countries such as the UK and the US stand to lose $119 billion per annum if less affluent countries do not promptly receive a sufficient share of the vaccines. It would only cost $25 billion to do so, thus yielding an overwhelming net gain.

Developing Countries

Economic vulnerability

Lockdowns around the world are expected to result in “the worst economic downturn since the great depression”. 

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are offering billions in financial aid to countries struck by COVID, which, in less economically developed countries, can have the crucial effect of limiting the risk of civil conflict, which is observed to result from negative exogenous fiscal shocks. This is a problem that is not often included in western calculi of the impacts of the coronavirus. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres claims that these economic effects will spillover and undermine responses to the pandemic: “most African countries lack the financing to adequately respond to the crisis, due in part to declining demand and prices of their commodity exports.”

Vulnerability to the health crisis and “guinea pigs” for vaccine testing

The experience of the pandemic has been generally different in the Global South compared to the Global North which dominate news and discourses on COVID. Nepal has less than 500 intensive care unit beds in the entire country, despite a population 28-million-strong. This is a problem that threatened even developed countries like Italy. Brazil is one of the countries most affected by the virus, following only the US and India. This is suspected to be because they lacked both the infrastructure to institute a robust testing and tracing system, as well as sufficient PPE. Political infighting and institutional incompetence have resulted in Brazil lacking a comprehensive vaccination plan.

Furthermore, significant testing for vaccines takes place in developing countries, which has often invoked an ethical debate, including criticism of individuals in these countries being used as “human guinea pigs”, with the implication that their lives are dispensable. 

The larger part of Coronavac testing is taking place in Brazil, with the New York Times calling the country the “ideal vaccine laboratory”. 

These attitudes are residual from imperial narratives about the “family of civilised nations”, with those not meeting the “standard of civilisation” being barbaric; read: subhuman. These narratives can subconsciously spillover into real-life policies regarding global vaccine distribution, risking a status quo wherein wealthy states are able to hoard vaccines while countries in the Global South are left waiting and wanting. With a global pandemic, time translates directly into human lives: the passage of a single minute signifies another death in the US alone.

However, wealth and health have long been conflated. The endemic problem of diseases in developing countries remaining untreated despite the availability of treatment is omnipresent, even prior to the coronavirus. In 2015, 1.6 million people in African countries died of diseases such as HIV-related illnesses, malaria, and tuberculosis. Such deaths can be prevented through existing medicines, however, due to lack of funds, these countries lack the medicines to deal with health crises that developing countries have already overcome.


COVAX and the EU


The COVAX facility is the response of higher-income countries to this question; an effort to make the global distribution of vaccines more equitable. This sentiment is echoed by Guterres, who requested that the vaccine be treated as a “global public good” as opposed to “private commodities that widen inequalities,” per WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 

is a strong example of international cooperation: it is spearheaded by international non-governmental organisations such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and the European Commission. 172 economies are now engaged in discussions to potentially participate in COVAX, with 80 of these being self-financing countries which will be providing support to the 92 countries eligible to be supported by this programme. The aim of COVAX is to “discourage national governments from hoarding COVID-19 vaccines and to focus on first vaccinating the most high-risk people in every country” by “lower[ing] vaccine costs for everyone”. Dr Ghebreyesus has cited COVAX as being a direct response to vaccine nationalism. Only time will tell how successful the execution of this project will be. Similarly, the EU is acting in its capacity as an international organization to centralise and coordinate vaccine distribution, ensuring that “All Member States will have access to COVID-19 vaccines at the same time on the basis of the size of their population”.

However, it is crucial that nations follow through on commitments to reduce vaccine inequality. The ACT-Accelerator Programme, developed by the WHO to quickly produce and fairly distribute vaccines, makes a desperate plea on its website: “Recent contributions bring the total committed to over 5.6 billion US$ – but an additional 3.7 billion US$ is needed urgently, with a further 23.9 billion US$ required in 2021.” The swine flu outbreak of 2009 is a prime example of vaccine nationalism gone awry, where developed countries hoarded large quantities of the vaccine in the early days, requiring the WHO to coordinate donations of 10% of the vaccine supplies of nine of these countries. However, even in this case, international cooperation was used to mitigate this issue.



Ultimately, however self-explanatory and simplistic such a claim may be, global cooperation is necessary when dealing with a global crisis. There is little room for nationalism, and little to be gained from a policy of “each man for himself”. 

The vaccine and the coronavirus, inextricably interlinked, have become channels through which national political interests can be realised, a new, shiny tool in the arsenal and war-chests of governments to wield power and gain political capital. There is something morally disquieting in extracting political gain from a tragedy that has robbed people of their lives, their jobs, and their livelihoods. However, it would not be the first time that death on a large scale has been politicised. An obvious analogy to this is war, yet it is also a non-comparative one; war is inherently political and nationalist, constituted of territorial disputes and invasions of countries’ borders and sovereignty. It is clear that this politicisation has negative consequences, as countries forgo correct procedures in a juvenile strife to be first, and keep vaccines to themselves, seemingly forgetting the principle of sharing. It is likely that cutting through (sometimes necessary) red tape would have occurred in any case, as doctors, biotech companies, and governments alike are doing everything in their respective powers to fasten the proverbial tourniquet and finally cease this incessant haemorrhaging. Hopefully, international cooperation will come to fruition, and the coronavirus can be tackled in one, concentrated, effective effort, as opposed to differentially, with LEDCs lagging significantly behind wealthy countries in terms of access to life-saving vaccines.(Ver)

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