By Adhere Cavince
A plan by the European Union not to recognize Covid-19 vaccines manufactured outside the block could set back global efforts to contain the pandemic. The intended vaccines passport by the EU risks leaving out travelers from developing countries who have largely received vaccines made outside the EU and the US. What is more appalling is that some EU member states have been actively donating vaccines not recognized by the European Medicines Agency to poor countries such as the Covishield.
The narrow list of vaccines accepted in the EU is a continuation of policy decisions by the bloc that have had serious implications on global vaccination drive. As Covid-19 vaccines emerged, rich economies within the EU rushed to purchase billions of doses of the commodities, leaving little for developing countries to buy. The unparalleled vaccine hoarding pushed poor countries to the end of the queue, an anomaly that exists to date.
When it became apparent that vaccine nationalism would jeopardize the ability of developing countries to inoculate their populations from the virus, there was a global call for patent liberalization, to facilitate mass production of the commodities. The EU and its member states strongly opposed the bid to temporarily suspend certain intellectual property rules to facilitate widespread vaccination around the world.
Meanwhile, some countries such as China began extending vaccine support to developing countries as a way of filling the gap structurally created by rich countries. China has domestically approved five vaccine candidates; two of which have been granted World Health Organization listing for emergency use. At home, China has now administered over 1 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines. Beijing has also sent over 480 million vaccine doses to nearly 100 countries.
Multilaterally, the WHO-led Covax facility has been working to outmaneuver the existing hurdles and provide vaccines to poor countries. The Indian-produced Astrazeneca vaccine was the key product supplied to over 50 African countries to jumpstart vaccination programmes. China is also set to donate its pledge of 10 million doses to Covax to further support inoculations in eligible countries.
The EU’s intention to exclude non-western vaccine candidates from its passport system is an unfortunate political game that threatens international cooperation against the global health crisis. Already, we have seen India issuing an ultimatum to the EU to accept Indian produced vaccines or risk blocking travellers from the block from entering India.
African Union together with its specialized agency, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned that the EU stance would result in discriminatory treatment of Africans who have received non-western vaccines.
Since the EU supports Covax, why would the bloc turn its back on the vaccines distributed through the facility? Why would EU member countries actively participate in donations of vaccines to developing countries yet block recipients of such vaccines from traveling to their territories?
The bare minimum for any country or block should be to accept all vaccines that have been approved by the World Health Organization. Lacing the vaccine agenda with ethnocentric and political burbs only defers the dream to begin post-pandemic reconstruction.
Developing countries continue to bear the brunt of vaccine nationalism. In Africa, for instance, only 1.4% of the population has so far been fully inoculated against the Covid-19 disease. The continent has come under heavy grip of the third wave of the pandemic, fueled by more transmissible and deadly variants of the virus.
Besides scuttling prospects for speedy vaccination in emerging economies, the EU’s decision is also self-defeating. Travel and tourism is critical to the bloc’s economic recovery. China is for instance the world’s largest source of tourists and comes only after the US as Europe’s most important travel partner. Locking out those inoculated with Chinese vaccines is therefore non-strategic.
Besides embracing the WHO-led international cooperation against the pandemic, the EU should also be willing to proactively consider mutual recognition of vaccines, just like other international actors such as China have done. No single country or bloc has the capacity to sustainably upstage the pandemic, in isolation of the rest of the world. International vaccines cooperation against Covid-19 is the ultimate key to unlock the future every human being on earth desires.
The writer, Adhere Cavince, is a scholar of international relations. The article first Appeared on Capital FM.