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Vaccine Diplomacy

Written By: - Date published: 11:28 am, March 15th, 2021 - 19 comments
Categories: China, covid-19, International - Tags:

Vaccines have had a place in diplomacy since the Cold War. The country that can manufacture and distribute lifesaving injections to others less fortunate sees a return on its investment in the form of soft power: prestige, goodwill, perhaps a degree of indebtedness, even awe.

Today the country moving fastest towards consolidating these gains may be China, under President Xi Jinping, who proclaimed last May that Chinese-made vaccines against COVID-19 would become a global public good.

Its best Belt And Road buddy Kazakhistan isn’t using the vaccine China is offering and is instead going to use its own one.

But in early February, China gifted 1.2 million of the Chinese Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine to Pakistan.

And then China got it to Peru, Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey, Egypt, Cambodia, Senegal, and a whole bunch more. Their vaccines are reputedly not as good as the Pfizer one, but the Chinese Covid-19 response could be a real international diplomatic game-changer. They have never seen such large demand for their pharmaceutical products.

Political instability doesn’t help the recipients, particularly in the case of Peru which went through three presidents in nine days in November 2020. But they have now scored 250,000 Pfizer doses in March and 300,000 more in Aril, with further deals to come from Swedish-British firm AstraZenica.

That makes for a nasty playoff between vaccine efficacy and being screwed by massive corporations whose deals may get trumped by their host nations, versus less effective Chinese vaccines which are a lot easier to get.

Moral quandaries abound as games of interest play off against each other then multiply in short succession.

A particular moral problem of 2021 is that wealthier nations in the north have locked up so many doses of Western vaccines – in some cases securing contracts for two or three times their populations – that they’ve effectively squeezed out countries with shallower pockets and weaker diplomatic might.

The Economist Intelligence Unit says dozens of developing countries might have to wait until 2023 for widespread inoculations. Ardern has already signalled support for New Zealand’s Pacific realm partners, but what of poor and non-aligned Pacific states?

This is also illustrated in the European Union, where the European Commission was never built for implementing Continent-wide public health measures, and the result is solidarity has gone out the window, it’s every country for themselves, and it’s a shambles.

In the last week, Denmark, Austria, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have all joined Hungary to break ranks with the EU’s vaccination strategy by going beyond Europe’s borders for doses. In doing so they have unleashed a barrage of criticism directed at the EU, saying their citizens can’t wait for the Commission to get its act together.

A particular angle to watch is whether Russia or China step in fast to Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina – these are weak countries still waiting to receive their first vaccine shipments (and North Macedonia and Moldova haven’t got much yet either), but they have been both left out of the EU’s immediate vaccine supply plans and are also possible future members of the EU. That’s what you call a vaccine diplomacy opening.

Italy has asked the European Commission to block exports of a vaccine to Australia. The Australian government is perturbed and asked for a review of that move.

These brutal games are no doubt some of the reason why our own government has been coy about a detailed timetable to deliver vaccines to the New Zealand population. Until they actually arrive on our shores en masse there’s not much point showing that you’re just getting played by multinational corporates and multinational governing orders.

Two days ago Minister Hipkins laid out a high level timetable for vaccine rollout with a sequence of border care workers, healthcare workers, older people in South Auckland with conditions, residential care people, then generally old people, then the last two million of us by July. Call me a little sceptical but I’m not rolling my sleeve up yet.

I don’t particularly begrudge China for using vaccine diplomacy to crack entry into South America and Europe, and reinforce its soft power in Africa. I don’t have any sympathy for multinational pharmaceutical companies at all, now or ever.

But there’s a nasty feeling that all of Pharmac’s purchasing power won’t be enough to stop us being pushed around in this merciless high sea of vaccine diplomacy.

Thankfully we are currently managing without it.

19 comments on “Vaccine Diplomacy ”

  1. RedLogix 1

    And people here get antsy when I suggest that money and politics have played an outsized role in determining the responses to this pandemic.

    Everything to do with vaccines should have been the domain of WHO to regulate and coordinate – but a combination of political manipulations and terrible missteps have greatly weakened their influence.

    • Ad 1.1

      The degree to which the xenophobic hard right across the United States, Europe, and South America have shanked international co-operation is sure playing out in real time now.

      Covid19 is the global test of how climate change multilateral co-operation was going to play out. It could have been the moment major powers woke up again to the power of co-operation, like the Paris Climate Accord and Kyoto.

      And the answer after the hard right is finished with it: global climate change response is going to go really really badly.

      Nation-states are much weaker in the public mind if multinational corporations do a better job than states of vaccine creation and distribution.

  2. joe90 2

    Meanwhile, sleepy, scotty, and co…

    The United States, India, Japan and Australia have pledged to jointly manufacture and distribute up to 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine before the end of next year, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday.

    The vaccine would be provided to Southeast Asian nations and potentially elsewhere, Sullivan told reporters. The vaccine would be produced by India, with additional funding provided by the United States and Japan, and distributed with logistical help from Australia, Sullivan said. He did not provide more specifics about the agreement, which came out of the first meeting of Biden and leaders of the other three nations.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/03/12/joe-biden-live-updates/

  3. Georgecom 3

    Azerbaijan has just done a deal with a Chinese company Longcom to authorise use of their vaccine which was undergoing trials in that country. First in the world to authorise that vaccine so they can get to the front of the queue for that vaccine. Other nations such as Cuba, Taiwan and Vietnam are developing their own vaccines to achieve sovereignty over vaccinations rather than rely on the big powers.

    And of note, Italy recently stopped the export of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia and then has joined with a number of other European counties to suspend rollout of the vaccine due to some concerns about blood clots in those vaccinated. Meanwhile, a number of developing countries wait Hopefully for their first tranche of this vaccine to be delivered.

    • georgecom 3.1

      correction it is Uzbekistan that has certified Anhui Zhifei Longcom's covid vaccine first and has guaranteed quick delivery of doses. It has just been certified for emergency use in China. Meanwhile the likes of Kazakhstan, Iran, Taiwan, Vietnam, Cuba and South Korea are plowing on with developing their own domestic vaccines to ensure they have some control. Indeed two Cuban vaccines are named Sobrana 1 & 2 which means sovereign in spanish

    • Pierre 3.2

      Pfizer have also (allegedly) been very demanding in negotiations with Argentina, pushing them to look for alternatives. I'm wary of monopoly corporations with the power to enforce decisions impinging on the sovereignty of national governments. And pharmaceutical companies above all have a bad reputation. Hopefully as Cuba, Russia, and China gradually make their vaccines available to the third world, that should balance things out.

  4. Sabine 4

    Thankfully we are currently managing without it.

    We are not managing anyhing. We are isolating ourselfs from the rest of the world and until the vaccines arrive that is the best we can hope for. Never mind the imported virus that hopefully will not again escape a plague hotel. But until we have the vaccine here in this country and getting it in the arms of all of us we are not managing anything.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 4.1

      But until we have the vaccine here in this country and getting it in the arms of all of us we are not managing anything.

      I have a different opinion – ‘weare managing some things adequately – no community transmission of COVID-19 for how many days is it now?

      https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-resilience-ranking/

      • Sabine 4.1.1

        About two weeks now, never mind we have had now two (August and Feb 15) outbreaks since last year the government seem to be unable to trace.

        So yeah, i am fully expecting other lockdowns as that seems the only thing the government has in its tool box.

        And it really would be nice if the government could tell us where these two ‘community’ outbreaks originated.

        • Incognito 4.1.1.1

          If you really believe that lockdowns are the only tool then you have been in coma for over a year.

          Some people have been pointing the finger at xxx xx as a potential source/origin of at least two of the community outbreaks.

          • Sabine 4.1.1.1.1

            yes, most of what we did in NZ is lockdowns. Like literally everytime.

            Track and trace comes after the outbreak. WE locked down the country. Then we locked down us. And we are still locking down us should it come up again. It does not matter the different levels, because anytime Akl goes in for it again, the rest of the country does too. Unless you want to dispute the disruption that the lockdown causes elsewhere in the country.

            And i don't really care what 'some' people say, it is the government that needs to say where the last two outbreaks came from, and that includes any Ghost Plague Hotels with different quarantine/isolating procedures to the rest of the Plague Hotels. Some people? It feels so Trumpian.

            If you want to look at another country that did really really well, and is much larger then ours, with landlocked borders I suggest that you look at Vietnam.

            and until the vaccines arrive here for the general public that is the best the government will do. Oh occasionally they will bring in some sports / entertainment/ bullshit stars so that the masses will not get to unruly, but what we have now is the best it gets, and that best is getting more and more unmanagable for those that don’t live on he government tit.

            • Incognito 4.1.1.1.1.1

              I disagree with your simplistic view/reasoning of how we have managed the pandemic so far and that lockdowns are the only tool, in which case it makes no sense that these come after something else that, in your mind, doesn’t exist. You don’t seem to understand how the system works and/or you just want to be negative. \shrug

              PS Government is trying to keep the ‘pain’ in our society under control through drip-feeding billions of dollars just like a morphine pump. There’s real damage and haemorrhaging in our society and ‘painkillers’ are not going to make that go away, nothing will. So, what’s the f-ing plan? Pray? Hope that we can go back to BAU ASAP by virtue (!) of vaccines?

  5. Pierre 5

    I was unsure on the Cuban vaccine(s), when I first heard about it I'd understood that they were developed by a Cuban medical institute, but that the actual pharmaceutical production was being done in China. Is that still the case?

    There's a similar situation in Britain with the Oxford-Astrozenica vaccine all developed locally, but produced in a facility in Belgium. Back in January I wondered what the Belgian people thought of this: to have a factory in your country producing millions of vaccines for another country, while your own population waits for vaccines from elsewhere. I know at the time the Astrozenica vaccine was considered risky and untested, but still, it's an odd situation.

    • Sabine 5.1

      a bit like the Pfizer vaccine that was started by a turkish german couple and seeded with money from Germany and then joined with Pfizer to produce.

      Production capacity would be a big thing i would guess and if a country does not have the production means why not go to a country that works with you?

      Not speaking for the belgian people, but the germans, french, dutch, polish, slovenians that are in my family don't care what they get into their arms, Astra Zeneca, Pfizer, Johnson Johnson, so as long as they get their shots. Ditto here, don't care which ones comes, so as long one comes and we can at least start thinking about normalcy.

      • Incognito 5.1.1

        I wonder whether it would be different if people were given a choice between paying $4 or $40 per shot, out of their own pockets. The fact that Government (AKA the ‘Taxpayers’) foots the bill neatly sidesteps that ethical-commercial ‘dilemma’ and as long as the consumers’ needs (AKA voters’ needs) are met by the market-Government, who dares to ask questions?

        A: only people without skin in the game, obviously, or fools …

        • Sabine 5.1.1.1

          heck i pay more if need be, and to be honest, in the future that will be the case.

          • Incognito 5.1.1.1.1

            I’m sure a large family in Papatoetoe would be quite happy to pay by EFTPOS too.

    • georgecom 5.2

      my understanding is they will produce the Soberana vaccine in Cuba should it be effective, apparently they can do 100 million doses per annum. that is additional to any agreements they sign for foreign companies to produce additional vaccines. Cuba has to produce much of it's medicines so I would imagine having capacity on shore would be a strategic part of that given how it must stand on it's own feet for many things. sufficient raw materials from time to time might be a problem for Cuba though, I am not entirely sure about raw materials for medicines. certainly "no hay" (we dont have) is a common term for the supply of toilet paper, gas, cooking oil………..Another often heard term is "se rompio" (it broke itself). Inanimate objects have a habit of breaking themselves devoid of any human involvement.

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