It’s been less than 15 months since the world got to know of the novel coronavirus. Yet, there are at least seven vaccines in use and more than 60 in clinical development. The extraordinary speed of vaccine development promises to limit the social and economic damage of the pandemic. If the worst case prognosis of a year ago seems unlikely, we should thank an unprecedented collaborative effort between governments, multilateral public health alliances, regulators and companies. The collaboration spread the financial risks of development and production of vaccines across countries to make a quick response possible.
Today, this work is in danger of being undone by vaccine nationalism. The term encapsulates a reversal of global collaboration to one where countries are getting narrow minded. It’s a mistake that will not only harm the global battle against Covid-19 but also negatively impact other areas. Vaccines are a complex product with a supply chain that is global. No country can claim to be truly self-reliant as manufacture of key ingredients such as adjuvants and bioreactors is spread across a global supply chain. Therefore, when countries overturn contracts or discourage trade, the entire system is disrupted.
The worst example of vaccine nationalism today is the one being played out between the UK and EU. The consequences are spilling over to other countries in the supply chain, disrupting scheduled orders. There’s a breakdown of trust between countries. It’s been worsened by governments trying to cope with surges in virus transmission. But the core problem is the breakdown of trust. The key players in the vaccine supply chain, particularly the US, UK, EU and India, need to take matters in hand. Last year’s collaboration was spurred by the understanding that in a pandemic no one is safe till everyone is safe. That reality should trigger damage control.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.