Saturday, March 6

Vaccine Diplomacy: The West is left behind in the race for influence | World News


By then, countries like the UK, the US and Canada hope to be on track to achieve herd immunity, along with a handful of other wealthy countries that have bought most of the Western vaccine supply to be produced in 2021. The gap is a diplomatic opportunity and some foreign capitals are taking advantage of it.

“The vaccine nationalism of Western countries created the space for these other countries to practice vaccine diplomacy,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior global health researcher in the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

While China sent its Serbian ambassador to the airport ceremony marking the arrival of the Sinopharm doses, and Vladimir Putin uses diplomatic summits to criticize Sputnik V, Washington, London, and European capitals have preferred pharmaceutical companies to be the center of attention, and largely allowed them to decide. where the vaccines go and in what quantities. With the exception of AstraZeneca, most have supplied most of their doses so far to the highest bidders.

“Pfizer, Moderna are also here to make a profit,” said Agathe Demarais, director of global forecasting for the Economist Intelligence Unit. They have short-term goals. So it is very different when a government markets a vaccine instead of a company. “

An illustration of the difference is the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India that Delhi gifted to South Asian governments this month. The formulation was developed by a British university, in collaboration with a Swedish-British company, but came out with a prominent brand: “Gift of the people and government of India”.

Any quid pro quo for vaccine aid is likely not immediate, analysts say. “Obviously, Russia and China are not entering emerging countries saying they need to give us something back,” Demarais said. But in the long run it will pay dividends. And the leaders of Russia and China understand that the pandemic is going to be with us for a long time. “

Specialists in China they are aiming to the way it has incorporated vaccines into its framework of Belt and Road initiatives, using summits with countries in the Middle East and Africa to offer preferential access to jabs along with investments in roads, ports, 5G networks and renewable energy. Last year, as Washington announced a “America First” response to the pandemic, Beijing was making high-profile deals to test, produce and sell vaccines in Latin America, deep within the traditional US sphere of influence. .

Health worker with Sinopharm vaccine

A health worker displays a dose of the Chinese Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Jordan’s capital Amman. Photograph: Khalil Mazraawi / AFP / Getty Images

In a century that is likely to see several more pandemics, Covid-19 vaccines are providing a foothold for the broader healthcare industries of countries. Jordan, a close ally of the United States in the Middle East, has for decades obtained most of its routine vaccinations from American companies. But with the Sinopharm formulation forming the backbone of its Covid-19 vaccination program, health experts in Jordan say they are reviewing Chinese medical products across the board.

“From now on we will welcome if a Chinese company comes in and says: we have a good vaccine for diphtheria, polio or hepatitis,” said Najwa Khoury-Boulos, distinguished professor of infectious diseases, who advises the government on the pandemic. . “We may not change what we buy, but we would look at it with more respect than before.”

Russian and Chinese companies have also been more willing than their Western counterparts to close licensing deals to allow manufacturers in places like Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia to partially or fully produce Covid-19 vaccines themselves. Last week, the World Health Organization and UNICEF issued a statement calling on Western companies to make more such deals, which may mean fewer long-term profits but more vaccines sooner for societies that desperately want them. .

For public health activists like Achal Prabhala, the diplomatic machinations of such agreements are beside the point. With relatively unambitious national vaccination targets compared to the West, Russia and China have the ability to export life-saving vaccines in the midst of an acute pandemic, and they are doing so.

“Whatever the Russian and Chinese motives for doing this, I don’t know and I don’t necessarily care,” said Prabhala, a fellow at the Shuttleworth Foundation. “If vaccines work, are affordable and available and are being aggressively pushed to countries that are happy to take them, who cares if they improve China’s image or soften Russia’s in the world?”

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