Vaccine Nationalism And Owing A Duty Of Care To Our Neighbors

‘Vaccine nationalism’ is a dangerous movement that threatens the world’s ability to end the pandemic. Vaccine nationalism is where rich countries pre-purchase COVID-19 vaccines for their citizens or restrict organizations’ ability to supply other nations. This behavior may make a future COVID-19 vaccine inaccessible to low income to medium-income countries. World leaders must recognize that ‘vaccine nationalism’ is a short term solution that is contrary to the public interest in the long term.

There is a concern, that rich countries will purchase large quantities of a future vaccine for low-risk citizens while high-risk front line workers in developing countries miss out. The New York Times reported Simon J. Evenett, a Professor of International Trade and Economic Development at the University of St. Gallen as saying “The parties with the deepest pockets will secure these vaccines and medicines, and essentially, much of the developing world will be entirely out of the picture,” and that “We will have rationing by price. It will be brutal.” Vox, an American news agency reported Alexandra Phelan, an assistant professor at Georgetown University as saying, “With the pandemic disease like this, you can’t actually protect your own country’s health if you’re not protecting global health. Without everyone in the world having access to this vaccine, no country is actually safe”

Globalization is a key component in a thriving economy where businesses and people have access to goods and services from around the world. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated in June 2020, that global GDP will fall by 4.9 per cent. The IMF predicts an 11.9 per cent contraction in global trade this year as a result of the pandemic. The International Labour Organization reported that globally, the decline in hours worked was equivalent to the loss of 130 million full-time jobs in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the fourth quarter of 2019.

CNBS, a news agency, demonstrated the world’s dependence on global supply chains by tracking the manufacturing process of the iPhone XS. This particular smartphone uses an Apple A12 chip designed in the United States, which is then fabricated in Taiwan. Afterward, it is packaged and tested in the Philippines to later be assembled into the phone in either China or Taiwan. In 2019, Apple alone had suppliers in 49 countries. Vaccine nationalism may temporarily protect citizens from the virus, but in the long term, it will not yield the desired outcomes. Rich countries, which are most reliant on international supply chains would instead get a higher return on investment from working alongside the international community to deliver the vaccine to those who need it most.

In response to ‘vaccine nationalism’ the World Health Organization (WHO) has created the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility. According to WHO, the mechanism is “is designed to guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for every country in the world, rich and poor, to make rapid progress towards slowing the pandemic.” The initiative has received interest from 165 Governments around the world. “For the vast majority of countries, whether they can afford to pay for their own doses or require assistance, it means receiving a guaranteed share of doses and avoiding being pushed to the back of the queue, as we saw during the H1N1 pandemic a decade ago” says Dr Seth Berkley, the CEO of  Vaccine Alliance.

Lord Atkin outlined in the famous common law case Donoghue v Stephenson (1932), that “you must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour.” Alike the case, countries should owe a duty of care to their neighbours. Global safety and prosperity will rely on those getting the vaccine being the ones who need it most. It is crucial for nations to understand that in the long term, working against the global interest is not in their interest. When the vaccine finally arrives, world leaders must work together to protect the world’s most vulnerable.