Sunday, 5 December, 2021

Self-defeating Nature Of Vaccine Diplomacy

Aashish Mishra

Vaccine diplomacy is proof that humanity no longer exists on the global stage. That countries have to appease more developed and better-equipped nations to give them life-saving jabs, that they have to prove to them that giving vital vials that can prevent the deaths of thousands and millions is in the superior nations’ “best interests” is a condemnation of the hierarchy that the world has turned into.
Diplomacy entails negotiations and compromise. Diplomacy is to be conducted on matters that are up for discussions, like treaties and agreements. Human life is too sacred to be discussed on, too precious to be compromised, hence too valuable for diplomacy.
Furthermore, states should not need convincing that defeating the novel coronavirus is in their best interests because it is. Health organisations and pandemic experts do not say “We are all in this together” for nothing. A powerful nation may choose to hoard shots, vaccinate its population multiple times over, but it will all mean nothing if a new variant emerges from a nation where the disease was allowed to rampage unchecked. We need only to look at India for this.
Our southern neighbour had been engaging in vaccine diplomacy since the discovery of the very first jab. It had been asking manufacturers like Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson and countries like the United States and the United Kingdom to waive intellectual property rights on the vaccines. But these countries could not be “diplomatically convinced.” This, coupled with India’s domestic failures on a number of other fronts, led to the rise of the double and triple mutant variants, which, in addition to wreaking havoc in their country of origin, have now spread to 19 other countries and threatened to reignite the outbreak in the “developed” countries that refused to grant India the right to manufacture and distribute vaccines in the first place. If diplomacy is the act of fulfilling a state’s interests, then vaccines should not be made part of diplomacy because holding them up as leverage will ultimately harm the very interests that diplomacy aims to fulfil. Hence, vaccine diplomacy is a self-defeating terminology.
Moreover, making vaccines a diplomatic endeavour puts them under the sphere of diplomats, policymakers and politicians instead of where they actually should be – under the jurisdiction of health agencies and multilateral global bodies like the World Health Organisation (WHO). State leaders, no matter how skilled and how well-intentioned, will not be able to manage vaccinations because that is not what they were trained for. Their expertise lies in state affairs, not health emergencies. There is a reason elected representatives and appointed officials do not currently oversee immunisation campaigns in Nepal and many other countries. Vaccine diplomacy makes as much sense as expecting bees to make honey from lemons.
So, if vaccine diplomacy is not the best way forward, then what is? Well, to put it in the bluntest way possible – common sense. Rich countries should have the common sense to know that they will not beat SARS-CoV-2 until the poor countries do. Nobody wins until everybody does. The nations with surplus vaccine supplies should be handing them over to the countries that are struggling to procure jabs because the longer the virus persists, the more it will mutate; and the more it mutates, the more useless the vaccine becomes. The so-called world leaders, hopefully, already know this and will soon begin acting on it.
In the meantime though, we must accept that the world we currently live in demands vaccine diplomacy, celebrates vaccine diplomacy. So, we must activate our diplomatic apparatus and engage with the global community to bring in as many jabs as possible. We cannot build a prosperous Nepal with happy Nepalis in the middle of the pandemic.