Vaccines against covid-19 have brought with them euphoria and optimism after a year and a half of pandemic. The images of English people celebrating the so-called “freedom day” or the reopening of nightlife in various western countries are an example of this. However, they have also turned out to be a diplomatic weapon and, for certain countries, an essential geopolitical tool.
“The pandemic and the vaccine have accelerated rivalry between powers”, Affirms Eduard Soler, senior researcher at CIDOB and coordinator of the Geopolítica y Salud report, which together with ISGlobal and Ideograma, analyzes the effects of the covid-19 crisis and the vaccination process at a global level, and how this affects international relations.
This imbalance between regions is of particular concern to virus experts and warns that high levels of contagion in densely populated countries such as Nigeria or South Africa could generate new variants more resistant to current vaccines.
“The health of a citizen in New York depends on the vaccines reaching Africa,” says Rafael Vilasanjuan, director of analysis and development at ISGlobal.
The Covax mechanism
The United Nations Covax mechanism aims to alleviate inequality, but has suffered significant delays caused by the closure of borders in India, the country that produces the doses destined for Africa and South America, during the latest wave of infections. Experts estimate that in February 2022 only 20% of Africans will be immunized.
For their part, vaccine-producing countries are beginning to use their future surplus as a political tool. According to Soler, the great powers can get “positioning and influence” or “promote their values” through the sale or delivery of doses to other states.
China and vaccine diplomacy
China, which has two patents approved by the WHO, made use of “vaccine diplomacy” with Paraguay, one of the few countries that recognizes Taiwan, to reconsider its position in exchange for Sinopharm vials.
Children in South Sudan. His parents are on the lookout for any signs of covid. Photo: AP
The position of the United States changed with the transfer of administrations. Under Trump, only 3% of vaccine production was exported, while Biden, more favorable to soft power tactics, pledged to deliver 500 million vaccines to Covax.
But the new American president faces another challenge within his own borders, mistrust in vaccines, a common phenomenon in western states like France and that is linked to the politicization of the pandemic, misinformation and denialism. Spain has recently surpassed the United States in the percentage of the immunized population due to the reluctance of many Americans to inoculate themselves.
The suspicion of institutions and their vaccination campaigns “responds to previous pathologies of society”Says Carme Colomina, a CIDOB researcher and one of the report’s authors.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the authorities lacked information and their measures were perceived by the population as arbitrary. According to Colomina, this “pandemic uncertainty” led to the spread of “rumors, speculations and lies”That gave answers that science and governments did not yet have.
To meet the challenges of immunizing the world’s population, the report proposes exploring avenues of cooperation rather than stark competition between countries.
New pandemics will arrive and, in order not to repeat the same mistakes, “international governance mechanisms have to be reformed,” according to Pol Morillas, director of CIDOB. Cooperation between states, international organizations and civil society actors will be essential in the future to solve future health crises.
By Helena Pelicano, Barcelona, La Vanguardia