Vaccine Nationalism Kills

In here, I will discuss what vaccine nationalism is, why it defeats the purpose of vaccines, and how it eventually kills what it supposedly saves.

The chaos theory tells us that even a minuscule event can spur an enormous change halfway across the world. This delineates the trajectory of our lives as we grapple our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic — depending on even the littlest of our actions, we may find ourselves either on better or worse conditions at large. Unless we start a global pandemic response coordinated with and participated by all countries, from the poorest up until the wealthiest ones, we cannot expect any immediate return to the “normal times.” This is precisely why in this paper, I argue that it is not only unethical but also impractical to adhere to the premise of vaccine nationalism.

Following health protocols, as important as they are, can only do so much. A solid chance to successfully combat this pandemic lies on our capacity to produce long-term solutions such as herd immunity through vaccinations. No one is denying that the world’s largest and most advanced countries are doing an excellent work with vaccination production and procurement and hence, faster pandemic response. However, this great feat would not remain for long should the virus spread and mutate into variants that can override the effectivity of current vaccines and wreak graver havocs. Therefore, no matter how many have been vaccinated, there really is no guarantee for any country to be fully protected from present and future pandemic complications. Therefore, without discounting governmental aspirations to protect their people, we ought to craft a collective response to a collective problem.

According to a report by the U.S. News, the United States is projected to have 300 million extra vaccines by the end of July 2021. Additionally, Canada, Brazil, United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, and other countries opposed petitions to waive monopolies for COVID-19 medical tools and vaccines. The legal principle of defeasibility allows for exception of a crime (in this case, the waiving of patent rights) under excusable circumstances. If a global health crisis is not enough of an excuse, then we really are on the brink of world-wide collapse. The unaddressed vaccine surplus and unwillingness to negotiate on patent waivers among wealthy countries and the dismally aided vaccination programs of poor countries shows just how vaccine nationalism defeats the purpose of vaccines — it blocks any opportunity for total pandemic suppression.

During these trying times, there is no (or there must be no) place for self-serving monopolies on vaccine production. Disproportionate global deaths due to inadequate pandemic response is already inhumane in itself but using this tragic occurrence as a profiteering mechanism is just pure and utter evil and is violative of any ethical limits. We have to remember that if a country falls behind, the whole world falls behind in its goal to resolve the pandemic, among many other social ills.

It goes without saying that inequity has long plagued our global healthcare system — vaccine nationalism is nothing new. There have been autonomous deals that benefit only a few but make global health inaccessible even before the pandemic. If anything, the COVID-19 predicament exposed the fragilities of many nations. Ergo, this is not to put all the blame on wealthy countries and deem developing countries as criminally reliant on the former. This is a call for all countries to recognize their moral responsibility to get the pandemic under control through global solidarity.

Even without providing moral appeals, vaccines must still be distributed evenhandedly for a particularly practical reason; as long as the coronavirus has an active host on any part of the world, we can never really eradicate its threat. The possibility of spawning deadlier and variants that are harder to contain will always haunt us. We can only truly tackle this global health crisis if countries are willing to cooperate in developing a comprehensive and equitable vaccine production and distribution plan. Our pandemic strategy must shift from charity to camaraderie, competition to collaboration, and ultimately nationalist to internationalist.

The Four Noble Truths from Buddha’s teachings demonstrate the inevitability of suffering — from marginal discomforts, to injury, global health crises, death, and more. Such suffering stem from the roots of evil — one of which is greed. This is where we can draw the role of vaccine nationalism in the growing social unrest and socioeconomic instability on a global scale. Instead of alleviating suffering, it reverses any progress already made. Nonetheless, despite our differences and contradicting beliefs, we can overcome this through our shared tendency to curb suffering and preserve ourselves. At the end, all will still depend on global efforts to mitigate existing and future damages by the pandemic.

If the chaos theory demonstrates our underlying interconnectedness, this pandemic reveals our consequential responsibility to ensure that our actions save and not endanger others. Now more than ever, we can no longer afford any more deaths and economic recessions at the cost of undue disregard for humanity. There is nothing inherently wrong with addressing the needs of a country and dealing with domestic problems per se — national leaders are mandated to do just that. What is unethical, however, is the selfish act of gatekeeping an overflow of resources from countries in dire need of such. Nothing can justify selfishness at the height of possibly the worst crisis of the decade. We ought never to forget that this pandemic will not end in our respective territories — not until it ends worldwide.

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