Published:  12:17 AM, 20 October 2021 Last Update: 02:58 AM, 20 October 2021

Global Politics and Diplomacy of COVID-19

Global Politics and Diplomacy of COVID-19
The inequality that exists in the world in case of the COVID-19 vaccine is, in a word, unbelievable and unimaginable. More than half of the world's people have not yet received a single dose of the vaccine. According to Human Rights Watch, 75 percent of the world's COVID-19 vaccines produced are gone in just 10 countries. On the other hand, the Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that half of the vaccines produced so far have gone to only 15 percent of the world's population. The most surprising fact is that the richest countries in the world have been received and vaccinated 100 times more than the poorest countries. Low-income countries received less than half of the vaccine, and in Africa, less than 5 percent of people received the full dose of the vaccine.

COVID-19 is killing people on the one hand, on the other hand, the global politics has become quite frozen with the vaccine. Now the proven fact is that the most effective strategy to control the COVID-19 virus is vaccination. But surprisingly, the strategies and geopolitics of countries competing for vaccine discovery, production and marketing are now at the center of geopolitics. The fight is going on with this and five countries are now very active in the politics and diplomacy of the COVID-19 vaccine: China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia and India. These countries have turned COVID-19 vaccine into a tool of their diplomacy.

Long before the COVID-19 vaccine came into force in the market, many poor and developing countries expected to collect vaccines from India. The countries relied on the Seram Institute of India to supply the vaccine invented by Oxford-AstraZeneca. This is because the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was licensed by the Seram Institute of India on the condition of cheap supply to these countries. India was also to provide vaccines at the World Health Organization (WHO)'s Covax facility. Bangladesh then with great interest agreed to buy the vaccine from the Seram Institute of India with advance money and also brought some vaccines. India wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to monopolize the South Asian vaccine market. They give huge amount of vaccines to every SAARC country except Pakistan. They even send large quantities of vaccines as gifts to some countries that have close ties with China. But with the virus suddenly multiplying in the country and the USA halting raw material exports, the Serum Institute has struggled to meet India's local needs. As a result, India stopped exporting vaccines. In addition to banning exports to vaccinate more people quickly, the country was forced to import vaccines from other countries.

The COVID-19 epidemic is now an important element of world politics. China and Russia want to actively use this facility. Not only through compromise on foreign policy, but also on reorganizing the geopolitical system in their favor instead of vaccine it off. Like India, China and Russia are similarly using the vaccine as a tool in politics and diplomacy. The Russian government has so far agreed to send vaccines to more than 70 countries. China also quickly took the initiative to send vaccines to 100 countries. Although initially there was very little global interest in the two countries' vaccines. The Western media also published various reports and articles expressing doubts about the effectiveness of the two countries' vaccines. However, the two countries have accelerated their approach to vaccination politics as the supply of serum institutes has been disrupted due to the multiplication of infections in India. Both countries have allowed the supply and production of vaccines in different countries in a short period of time.

The Biden administration was already concerned that US biopharmaceuticals technology could be taken over by Russia and China after vaccine's intellectual property rights were relaxed. On the other hand, the US government opposed the testing and supply of Chinese vaccines because India may be dissatisfied. Recently, however, the WHO approved the emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccine invented by the Chinese company, the first Synoform vaccine, and the second Synovac vaccine.

It has been noticed that not only Bangladesh, but also many western countries like France, Spain and Germany have tried hard to get vaccine from China and Russia. Although the Western media initially ignored the COVID-19 vaccine invented by China and Russia, the situation has now changed and they are inclined to get it. With virtually no way out, they have been forced to step out of the glory of vaccination outside the Western world. China, on the other hand, has declared that its synovac and synoform vaccines are "global public resources."

On the other hand, the production of vaccines is not going to increase even if it is wanted due to patents. There is also politics and diplomacy. Pharmaceutical companies have bought vaccine formulas. Despite their capabilities, no one else is able to produce vaccines. Taking advantage of the situation, Russia and China have allowed the supply and production of vaccines in different countries in exchange for favorable foreign policies. Many countries in the world are now ready to make vaccines, but the wait is just for technology transfer. The USA has also recently agreed to a temporary waiver on vaccine patents. However, opposition to patent and intellectual property waivers has grown since the issue arose. Britain and the European Union have taken a stand against the proposal.

At a recent news conference, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the COVID-19 vaccine strategy "immoral and foolish." Guterres said countries were at risk of losing their own protection against the epidemic as poor countries were denied access to vaccines. The press conference was attended by both the UN Secretary General and the head of the WHO. Vaccine inequality is prolonging the COVID-19 epidemic, because of this, new types are being created, he said. Which are spreading at a massive rate. The WHO wants at least 10 percent of people in each country to receive a full dose of the vaccine by September, but this goal could not be met in 56 countries of the world.

In last June, G-7 countries - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA - pledged to provide 1 billion doses of vaccine to poor countries over the next year. The UK has promised 100 million in vaccines, but has provided less than 9 million. President Biden said he would donate 580 million vaccines, but the USA has given only 140 million vaccines and the European Union has promised to give 250 million vaccines, but has provided only 8 percent.

Many middle-income countries, such as Iran, have bought the vaccine from Kovacs - an initiative supported by the WHO. Kovacs will sell vaccines to middle-income countries at lower prices, and to poor countries as free donations - that was the plan. Covax's plan in 2021 was to provide 2 billion in vaccines, which are expected to come from India. But after the second wave of COVID-19 infections took a deadly turn there, the Indian government banned the export of the vaccine for its own safety.

After this serious disruption in the supply of vaccines, Kovacs is relying heavily on donations from rich countries. But the pace of supply is extremely slow. Some countries that have been vaccinated against Kovacs have not yet vaccinated even 2% of their population. Vaccines were supposed to be provided in many countries from the Seram Institute of India. But the vaccination crisis has arisen in India itself as the number of patients has increased.

The WHO has called on rich nations to suspend booster doses until the end of September, as the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is yet to be confirmed for many countries as only a handful of countries have purchased the vaccine. Originally from the USA, Germany, France, Israel and several Middle Eastern countries plan to give citizens an extra dose of the vaccine to control COVID-19 delta variants. But rich countries have not responded to the WHO's call and have continued the third or booster dose.

A research firm called Airfinity, says, vaccines are not a problem for the rest of the world, but rich countries are stockpiling extra vaccines. Vaccine manufacturers are now producing 1.5 billion doses of vaccine per month, and 11 billion will be produced by the end of this year. As a result, the richest countries will have 1.2 billion doses of vaccines, which - even if they decide to give booster vaccines - will not actually be needed. Even about one-fifth of these vaccines - now at risk of being discarded - unless they are donated to other countries very soon. Then it is clear that billions of people are being deprived and jeopardised of vaccines due to the fire of vaccine politics and diplomacy.

Md Zillur Rahaman is a Banker and Freelance Columnist

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