Amid the pervasiveness of the coronavirus devastating global infrastructure, where some countries tried to exercise vaccine diplomacy, vaccine nationalism was also rising up.
The extreme form of vaccine nationalism is vaccine apartheid, where the discrimination regarding vaccination is posing a severe threat to the masses across the globe.
Those who are in full control of promoting vaccine apartheid have already forgotten that nobody is safe from this pandemic until everyone is safe.
Answering the popular demand, the United States has already announced that it will ensure the vaccine is available for the whole world once the US population is vaccinated.
This is a significant development considering the rampant vaccine apartheid in the world, pushing the world into a new crisis. Realizing the potential threat of the persisting variants of the virus endangering the world right now, Antony Blinken said,
“Until the vast majority of people in the world are vaccinated, it’s still going to be a problem for us.”
Although Blinken did not specify the timeline of extending the helping hand to the outer world, he asked the people to “stay tuned” for the latest developments.
So, all eyes are on the Biden administration to take the driver’s seat in pulling the world out of the pervasive crisis.
Nine months ago, when the global leaders vowed to fight the pandemic together with a universal supply of vaccines, vaccine apartheid was just a fear.
However, the monopolies of the pharmaceutical companies on the vaccination are making it impossible for the poor countries to acquire these vaccines at an affordable price, resulting in imminent chaos.
This hoarding of vaccinations put the vulnerable African countries at risk when the poor health infrastructure was already in the doldrums in these countries.
The US must perceive the damage beforehand and try to crackdown against the vaccine hoarders so that the medicine does not get concentrated in a few hands.
As the US is the country having the most rapid vaccination drive, the United States should also try to export more and more vaccines at an affordable price without seeking business avenues in this field, as it will not only increase the US intangible power but also help the needy countries to escape the virus crisis.
How is vaccine apartheid affecting the world? And what are the possible options for the US to tackle this menace? Let’s see.
Profit Before People: The Only Reason for Vaccine Apartheid
Many organizations around the world are calling for unconditional equity in the distribution of vaccines.
People living in first-world countries have the privilege of vaccination, while those in poor regions will not be vaccinated for several years if the business goes as usual.
The pursuit of profit at the expense of human life results in lobbying the big pharmaceutical companies hoarding the vaccination, resulting in the prevailing crisis.
While the richer countries acquire herd immunity, this vaccine apartheid remains a core hurdle in achieving global herd immunity.
At this time, it might seem like a hyperbolic assumption, but it is already turning into reality. Recently protestors in the southeastern region of France wore yellow badges labeled “‘unvaccinated.”
This protest could be considered as a beginning of a new wave against discrimination in the vaccination process, which will grow in the coming times.
The Big Pharma companies have deliberately hampered the vaccine production process to increase the demand-supply gap and price of COVID-19 vaccines.
Meanwhile, rich countries, including the United Kingdom and America, have hoarded the limited supply of vaccines for themselves.
According to Global Justice Now, a campaign organization working in the United Kingdom, more than 75% of the total vaccine supply currently resides in ten countries, while around 200 countries across the globe are still struggling to get their hands on the COVID-19 vaccines.
Artificial scarcity is being created to increase the prices of the vaccines while COVID-19 grows and mutates, risking millions of lives.
Despite the pledges of world leaders for equal distribution of vaccines under the banner of the World Health Organization, this vaccine apartheid is nonetheless a worrying sign.
African Nations: Most Vulnerable to Vaccine Apartheid
African countries are the most vulnerable on the receiving end, as Kenya has already sounded alarms over the probable vaccine apartheid after the United Kingdom imposed a travel ban to East African Nations.
Vaccine manufacturer countries are practicing vaccine nationalism and possessiveness, according to the Kenyan Foreign Minister.
He also said that issuing vaccine passports without ensuring vaccine access will make it nearly impossible for the world to conquer the pandemic.
The United Kingdom is taking vibrant measures after the spread of new variants in the country. This is a necessary step, but people from other European countries with a rising infection rate, such as France, are allowed to enter the UK, making it controversial and discriminatory.
The United Kingdom is currently administrating Oxford AstraZeneca and BioNtech Pfizer vaccines.
With long ties with the UK, Kenya has asked the nation to share its vaccine, but the UK administration has taken no commendable steps, as the vaccine apartheid remains omnipresent.
The even more alarming aspect is that this very same phenomenon has been seen in the recent past in South Africa.
South Africa is one of those countries that is expected to suffer from vaccine apartheid, but this is not a new thing for the nation.
In 2001, organizations in South Africa called for a global protest against pharmaceutical companies that barred the nation from importing low-cost HIV medication.
As a result, nearly 40 percent of deaths in South Africa by the start of the century occurred due to HIV and Aids-related illnesses.
Now, as the confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Africa are nearing 1.5 million, the nation is once again suffering from the same denial for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Being the global leader and supporting the biggest vaccine manufacturer, the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Biden administration.
President Joe Biden holds the responsibility for ending the vaccine apartheid before it reaches an unbearable extent.
However, the real problem is that apartheid must not be ended on the terms of Big Pharma companies.
The Biden administration can start by ending the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver and urging the European countries to follow suit.
The United States can also use the power vested by the Defense Production Act to bring vaccine production companies to the bargaining table.
With these powers, Big Pharma could be compelled to join the COVID-19 technology pool of the World Health Organization and ensure cooperation among different vaccine manufacturers.
The United States, along with other rich countries, could invest in expanding the repurposing vaccine manufacturer facilities in Africa and the other developed nations.