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In Times of Crisis: COVID-19 and Vaccine Nationalism

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

Early 2021 brought good news – effective, safe vaccines to end the COVID-19 pandemic. However, while international leaders called the vaccine a global good, they simultaneously made bilateral purchasing agreements. These agreements quickly reserved the bulk of vaccines being made, disadvantaging poor nations who cannot wield the same level of purchasing power in the competitive market. Experts quickly coined this practice vaccine nationalism.

Immediately gaining popularity, the term vaccine nationalism has been discussed by various world leaders and covered by the world news such as the BBC, US News, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, and more, with the WHO’s general director warning of the impending ‘catastrophic moral failure’ that will result from this trend.

Here, I define vaccine nationalism as the political strategy for a state to prioritize itself when purchasing vaccines, foregoing global solidarity despite the benefits of a more liberal and equitable approach, such as restricting bilateral deals or waiving intellectual property rights through the WTO. This approach has created a vast disparity of vaccine access between rich and poor nations (Figure 1).