“Vaccine nationalism” opposes the end of the Covid-19 crisis | Stephen Buranyi | Opinion


WWe are all waiting for a coronavirus vaccine, but when Russia announced earlier this week that it would be the first country to approve one, no one rejoiced. Scientists pointed out that clinical trials were not complete, the vaccine had been tested on less than 100 people. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he had “serious doubts” that it would work. It was a transparent and potentially dangerous publicity stunt. “This is ridiculous,” the head of the Russian Association of Clinical Research Organizations told Science magazine, “I am only ashamed for our country”.The mysterious vaccine may not be dangerous. The technology is similar to several approved vaccines, and Russia said its release will be limited to healthcare workers and other populations at risk until further trials are completed. China has also approved a vaccine being tested for military use without much fanfare. But it’s unlikely to work – most vaccines don’t. The point for Russia appears to be to pass a vaccine undergoing limited-release testing as completed in order to mark a nationalistic dopamine twist. (The project is even called Sputnik V, which suggests that it is the successor to the Soviet rockets that beat the United States in the space race.)

It sounds ridiculous, even cartoonish. Vladimir Putin claimed the treatment was safe because his daughter had followed it, as if her family were an agent of the public. But before we go to mourn a failed state and ridicule its scientifically illiterate strongman, we should ask ourselves: is it really that different from Donald Trump calling America’s response to Covid the best in the world? Or the UK government’s continued insistence that it was on the verge of hitting test numbers that took months to materialize? These answers are like: a state fails and then tells people it’s a success.

The WHO last week warned of “vaccine nationalism,” noting that unless countries cooperate, a truly effective vaccine could set off a global frenzy. Similar to the rush for PPE equipment and test reagents when governments seized exports and the United States reportedly attempted to intercept shipments from other countries at global ports, demand for vaccine supplies could result in yet another battle for limited resources – with the added complication that no one knows which project will succeed, so no one is sure yet what they’re trying to find.

And, while some vaccine projects have promised to make the results as cheap and widely available as possible, others are being marketed in frightening ways. A few weeks ago, I spoke with a financial analyst who was positively giddy speculating that America’s top contender – Moderna’s mRNA vaccine – could end up selling for over $ 70 a dose globally, a price that would give up the poorest countries in the world. line, or completely out of line.

WHO’s solution is to ask countries to join its Covid-19 Tool Access Program (ACT), part of which is dedicated to funding open access research and purchasing vaccine stocks for ensure equitable distribution. The project recently received $ 8 billion from a group of EU countries, the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust. An encouraging amount, but likely to be overwhelmed by the waves of liquidity thrown by countries trying to go it alone. Last month, the United States signed or began negotiations for deals with Pfizer ($ 2 billion), GlaxoSmithKline ($ 2.1 billion), Moderna ($ 1.5 billion) and AstraZeneca ($ 1 billion) dollars) to provide potential vaccines. The UK has signed six such deals, totaling 340 million potential doses, although the price is not yet known to everyone.

Calling this vaccine nationalism seems pointless since each stage of the coronavirus crisis has been marked by a resurgence of nationalism; and by the states hitherto most invested in the idea of ​​an interconnected world by receding, struggling in anger when the system no longer seemed to serve their interests. Take, for example, Trump’s sudden discovery that, despite its immense wealth, the United States no longer really makes drugs (not gowns, masks, or ventilators).

But it’s also part of a longer trend. International institutions such as the WHO, which have warned of potential pandemics and created initiatives around vaccine research and distribution and public health preparedness, have not been taken seriously or funded at an appropriate level for years. The foundations for a truly cooperative international response to this crisis should have been laid long ago.

One of the most terrifying things in the early days of the pandemic was seeing the richest and most powerful countries in the world grope their response through a combination of bad political practices and the effects of leaving national institutions. collapse for years. Meanwhile, smaller countries, such as Vietnam and South Korea, have performed admirably. And yet, while we tend to obsessively compare results, at first it was not a zero-sum game. Everyone could have been New Zealand.

If a vaccine truly marks the end of the crisis, it will be a particularly perverse tragedy if the very nations that have failed so far manage to make it a zero-sum game in which the country with the most money buys the most. . vaccine – leaving everyone excluded.

Stephen Buranyi is a science and environment writer


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