Hadiza Bagudu 17/10/2024
Vaccine Nationalism, a phenomenon commonly observed in Western countries, has been pushed into the spotlight by the Covid-19 pandemic. While the term isn’t new, it has become increasingly significant in its influence on global health, with countries like Nigeria feeling its impact profoundly.
What is Vaccine Nationalism?
Vaccine nationalism is a phenomenon in which affluent countries overbuy and stockpile essential vaccines during pandemics to safeguard the lives of their citizens at the expense of the lives of the citizens of less affluent countries and global health solidarity. This practice is widespread among the wealthier nations and is an obstacle to the fair and equitable distribution of vaccines globally. The rise of the Covid-19 pandemic led to richer countries amassing a significant number of COVID-19 vaccines, causing a shortage for the poorer nations, with many African countries, especially Nigeria, affected.
COVID-19 Vaccine Nationalism: A Modern Example
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the reality of vaccine nationalism. Wealthier nations, particularly in the West, took advantage of their economic strength by reserving an overwhelming number of vaccine doses, far exceeding their population’s needs. This excessive procurement resulted in countries like Nigeria experiencing significant vaccine shortages, leading to challenges in vaccinating their population, while the US, UK, and EU countries initiated widespread vaccination campaigns.
Vaccine nationalism is not a new phenomenon. Back in the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, countries with greater purchasing power monopolized the vaccine market, depriving poor countries of adequate supply. Even earlier, during the HIV/AIDS crises, the high cost of the antiretroviral medications made them unaffordable for many African countries, leading to avoidable loss of life.
Causes of Vaccine Nationalism:
Several key factors led to the rise of vaccine nationalism. Chief among them is the obligation of governments to protect their citizens at all costs, often resulting in prioritizing national interests. Other contributing factors include political motivations, the urgent need to recover the national economy following the pandemic, and the competitive aspects of global politics. Nonetheless, this perspective fails to recognize that in a highly interdependent world, the well-being of a nation’s population is dependent on controlling the spread of the virus on a global scale and achieving herd immunity.
Implications for Nigeria:
The effects of COVID-19 vaccine nationalism in Nigeria are multifaceted. The delay in obtaining vaccines not only delays the pandemic’s harmful impacts but also exacerbates economic hardships and the risk of health complications. Additionally, this burdens the nation's healthcare system, which is already facing challenges and poses a barrier to achieving widespread immunity.
To effectively address the challenges posed by vaccine nationalism, an integrated effort from the international community is required. Here are some of my recommendations:
1. International Collaborations: The principle that collective security is paramount needs to be acknowledged by all countries. Solidarity and support for international collaborations, including initiatives such as the COVAX, GAVI, etc., and the efforts of the African Union (AU) and the World Health Organization (OAU), is fundamental to ensuring just and equitable vaccine distributions.
2. Fairness in Vaccine Allotment: Wealthier countries should provide clear information regarding their vaccine requirements and refrain from hoarding. They should distribute excess supplies to countries with fewer resources.
3. Support Domestic Production: It is imperative for Nigeria and other African countries to invest in domestic vaccine manufacturing facilities. This step not only decreases dependence on foreign assistance to secure life-saving vaccines, but also facilitates quicker and more adaptable responses to health crises.
4. Boost HealthCare System: Nigeria needs to take measures to fortify its healthcare infrastructure for the efficient distribution of vaccines. This involves training healthcare professionals, upgrading storage infrastructure, and enhancing distribution networks.
5. Public Awareness Campaigns: Nigeria should engage in extensive public awareness campaigns to educate its citizens and prevent misinformation which could lead to vaccine hesitancy, with a primary focus on the importance and safety of vaccines.
6. Diplomatic Relations: Nigeria need to intensify its diplomatic relations with the aim of establishing connections with vaccine producing countries and global health organizations to facilitate fair vaccine distribution.
7. Policy Reforms: Global policy reforms are needed to discourage vaccine nationalism. Such reforms may involve agreements to lift export restrictions on vaccines and their components.
8. Investment in Research and Development: Increasing investments in research and development in the healthcare sector will enable Nigeria to develop self-reliance for future pandemics.
9. Equity in Vaccine Pricing: There is a need for global systems to ensure that vaccine pricing is fair and equitable globally, enabling lower-income nations to access them without relying on donations.
10. Pandemic Readiness: Nigeria should collaborate with other nations to construct a robust plan for responding to emergencies. This should include a plan for acquiring and distributing of vaccines in future health crises.
Although it is necessary for governments of countries to prioritize their citizens in times of pandemics, vaccine nationalism has extensive adverse effects on global health, particularly for nations like Nigeria. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the interdependence of our world; no nation exists in isolation during a global health crisis. Therefore, addressing vaccine nationalism requires a cooperative, transparent, and fair approach, ensuring that all countries, irrespective of their economic status can access essential vaccines. The path forward is intricate, but with united global efforts, we can achieve equitable vaccine distribution, laying the foundation for a more resilient global health framework.