What is happening around the world with coronavirus vaccines can only be described as a global battle for influence and international clout in the post-coronavirus world. Instead of cooperation and solidarity between different nations to get vaccines to as many people as possible and to address this transcontinental and borderline global threat, conflicts between vaccine companies are raging.
Leaders and politicians have even made strong statements in defense of the vaccines produced by their national companies. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently stepped in to defend the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after European countries decided to suspend the vaccine’s use due to reports of deadly blood clots.
The vaccine is safe and effective, he says. MERS-CoV vaccines have become the most important manifestation of the game of global influence between the major powers. Companies affiliated with the US, China, Russia and Britain are at loggerheads.
Producing and distributing vaccines to more countries has become a token of influence and power, and a fierce race for many major countries. The market for the distribution and sale of vaccines has become much like arms races and exports to various countries around the world.
It is a totem of power, status and credit in the technological progress of one or another. Russia, for example, chose the name Sputnik V for its vaccine, Sputnik 1 being the first Soviet satellite launched into space in 1957. It is a name that is clearly related to prestige and global influence.
However, the Russians say they are not involved in political races over vaccines. Their vaccine has gained the confidence of 50 countries around the world, making it the second-most-trusted vaccine in the world, they argue. Other Russian vaccines are reportedly on the way to entering the market.
China has also been successful in mass distributing its Sino-Farm vaccine. Since the beginning of the crisis, China has sought to present itself as a major responsible state in what is now called “vaccine diplomacy.” This is what Russia has done too.
Russia has made its mark on Europe, gaining recognition of the vaccine by three European countries. Western companies are trying to challenge other vaccines in different ways and models.
The conflict over the vaccine is not surprising, at least to observers. In fact, The Economist predicted some months ago that the collection or distribution of vaccines to countries would become an area of intense competition and conflict between countries.
But the recurrence of unethical practices in obtaining sterilization materials and medical equipment at the beginning of the crisis is a sign of a profound moral upheaval that is ravaging the world order. It is not just a matter of trying to prove the efficacy of vaccines for some countries and challenging others.
It even extends to protectionist measures taken by some countries to get the lion’s share of vaccines at the expense of others. It is remarkable that political sensitivities have been reflected in vaccines.
In Europe, for example, a dispute flared up between the British company AstraZeneca and the European Union after the latter was informed of a 60% cut in the amount of vaccine it had committed to sell, prompting EU leaders to call it unfair competition for vaccines.
According to this claim, Johnson is trying to use the vaccine issue to justify his right to leave the EU. Perhaps strangely, the world is beginning to realize that the effectiveness of global vaccination can only be achieved if the source of the epidemic is eliminated or at least neutralized. This, in turn, requires a collective collaborative effort.
In fact, the vaccine has become a means of assessing the strength, prestige and level of well-being of nations. Vaccine production becomes an indicator of power, progress and scientific influence.
As a result, vaccination is now an arena of geopolitical conflict in which countries such as China and Russia have gained ground, while the pandemic in the US and the inability to control it has overshadowed the success and high demand for vaccines. The vaccine conflict is not just about who produces it first.
It is about who can win over the most states and expand its reach. It has also focused on vaccine prices, storage conditions, transportation, use and suitability for different countries.
Despite rumor wars, misinformation and questioning of certain vaccines, their risks and potential side effects, geopolitics and traditional alliances have played a role in creating a network of cooperation for vaccine procurement.
But international competitors have been able to break through this network, gaining the trust of strategic allies in other major countries and cooperating with them on vaccine procurement. New networks of alliances are emerging on the horizon based on scientific, technical and health cooperation.
One explanation for this conflict is that the effectiveness and results of vaccination campaigns have a significant economic impact. Indeed, the fight against the epidemic and the return to normal life imply a resumption of economic activities and a halt to the losses caused by the epidemic and the public closure plans. This is absolutely true.
But the fact is that the return to normalcy and its economic, trade and investment benefits depend on the whole world recovering from the pandemic.
The author is a United Arab Emirates-based political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.