THE US MARCHING TOWARDS A NEW VACCINE DIPLOMACY

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Biden administration towards the end of vaccine nationalism after G7 summit

During the G7 summit in Cornwall, which ended on the 13th of June, United States President Joe Biden urged the attending world leaders to join the United States in distributing coronavirus vaccines worldwide and in particular to the most struggling nations.

Previously, Biden had also pledged that the United States would donate 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccine to help hasten the end of the pandemic, while at the same time strengthening the image of the world’s wealthiest democracies.

Just before the start of the G7 summit, during a speech in England, the US President had indeed affirmed that it was in the interest of the whole world and of the US itself to ensure that vaccines would be available quickly also to every country and especially to the weakest ones. 

Now, the country is emerging as a recovery model after managing to overcome a more than 15-month long global crisis.

Biden had stated that “In times of trouble, Americans are extending a hand to offer help,” arguing that U.S. doses, which will be distributed without requiring economic interests nor placing strings attached, will be vital for the success of the global vaccine campaign.

The United States’ assistance appears to be crucial for many nations that, while already weak, have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. As a matter of fact, in contemporary times, the USA have always been at the forefront in the management of crises and disasters affecting less developed states.

An example of that can be found in the recent cases of Ebola and Zika epidemics, when the USA played a leading role organizing international aid movements which, through the implementation of development projects and the transfer of wealth, have even caused the states affected by the crises to emerge stronger than before.

Nevertheless, COVID-19 seems to be different: while the previous pandemics were quite contained to some regions thanks to the quick and effective international intervention aimed at restraining the infection in those areas, the COVID-19 pandemic was initially faced by the international community and by the USA differently due to the belief that China, a large and powerful state, was capable of localizing the virus.

But, as pandemic spread everywhere, the United States felt treated and, following a realist logic, they started pursuing their national interests instead of those of the international community, thus abandoning the weaker states to their destinies.

It would now seem that, even if late, the Biden administration has finally started to opt for policies that take more care of the weakest countries and thus it has begun assisting them in the fight against coronavirus. However, until Biden’s recent declarations at the G7, the US’ actions in this regard have been rather halfhearted and well beneath the American standards to which we were accustomed.

Certainly, the American government must, first of all, take care of its own citizens, which is why the American race to get the vaccines is quite comprehensible, but it must be stressed that currently the USA own a sufficient quantity of shots to vaccinate their whole population and in addition they have signed deals with pharmaceutical companies to receive further doses: at this point it is clear that the number of vaccines they own is excessive. 

Hence, the U.S. focused on its domestic policy while other emerging countries, and in particular China, were engaging in so called “vaccine diplomacy,” i.e., policies aimed at importing vaccines into weaker countries in order to improve the donor countries’ position in the international systems.

By failing to act similarly to China and India and by not pursuing vaccine diplomacy, the US missed a great opportunity to increase its soft power in the multiple countries that, lacking access to Western vaccines, were forced to move further towards authoritarian states such as China.

As if the substantial lack of U.S. measures to assist weak countries was not enough, it is also worth remembering that the U.S. also made it virtually impossible those states to produce vaccines, by releasing a new set of rules to restrict the foreign exchange of materials needed for vaccine production and by supporting, along with other rich nations, the World Health Organizatoins rule protecting the intellectual property of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. 

Therefore, it is pivotal that, following Biden’s statements, America really starts to act again as it did when other health crises of our century occurred. The U.S. must pursue this path not only out of sheer humanity, but also to help its own self. 

 In fact, as long as the pandemic continues to rage around the world new variants of the virus will continually pose threats to USA’s national and global security, thus hoarding vaccines contributes only partially to its fight against COVID-19. 

Moreover, if large parts of the world remain devastated by the pandemic, globalization and deeply interconnected markets could make the impacts of the crises felt in America as well, hence vaccine nationalism could carry negative economic consequences for the USA too.

Finally, the lack of US’ action along with the success Chinese and Indian vaccine diplomacy also risks resulting in the development of global appreciation for the capabilities of the pharmaceutical sectors of such Asian countries at the expense of U.S. pharmaceutical companies.

U.S. leadership during past global crises has been a means for strengthening its global position and for promoting its geopolitical and economic interests. It is therefore necessary for the United States to act similarly in its foreign policy with respect to the pandemic, thus making of vaccinating the whole world population its priority. 

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