On the contrary, a form of what is either admiringly or disparagingly called “vaccine nationalism” was baked into the American vaccine program, like the British and Israeli programs, from the start: Whatever it takes, whatever it costs, and screw everyone else. The Trump administration refused to join COVAX, the international consortium that seeks to distribute vaccines around the planet. At one point, Trump made noises about getting exclusive access to a vaccine under development by a German company. Except for some rhetorical and symbolic gestures, President Joe Biden hasn’t really moved away from this position either. He has decided to send Mexico and Canada several million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine—which the U.S. hasn’t yet approved and may not need—and made a few other promises to “work together” with other nations down the road.
Thomas J. Bollyky: Democracies keep vaccines for themselves
Much has been written about how the European Union chose a different path, jointly purchasing vaccines for all its members on the grounds that a bidding war among European countries would leave the smaller ones without anything. The EU also convened the meetings that created COVAX and, expecting reciprocity, allowed European manufacturers to export to Britain and elsewhere. In Europe, pride at having done “well” in the first phases of the pandemic has now turned to anger, in some countries, at the failure to distribute vaccines faster. But vaccine nationalists are not only on a different path from the EU. They have also gone in a different direction from Russia and China, two countries that are so convinced of the global importance of this moment that they have been selling and distributing vaccines abroad even before their own populations are vaccinated. As of late March, China had produced 250 million doses of its vaccines and sent 118 million abroad, to more than four dozen different countries. Russia, whose own vaccination percentage is in the single digits, has also been boasting of its exports to 22 different countries, as well as deals to produce its Sputnik V vaccine in South Korea, India, Serbia, and possibly Italy.
Read: Vaccine nationalism is doomed to fail
And no wonder: Unlike Biden, Johnson, Netanyahu, or any of the EU prime ministers, leaders in Beijing and Moscow don’t need to worry about electorates who might judge their vaccine distribution. The Chinese may have also concluded that their contact-tracing, border-control, and quarantine systems are so successful, they don’t need to hurry with mass vaccination. More to the point, both countries have already identified the vaccines as a game-changing technology, and have already decided that the foreign-policy benefits of vaccine distribution abroad are too important to waste.
That decision is shaping other countries’ policies. Three-quarters of the vaccines supplied to Chile, the country with the highest vaccination rate in Latin America, are Chinese CoronaVac shots. Serbia, which is not part of the EU, is using Russia’s Sputnik V to power ahead of other European countries. San Marino, a microstate that is also not part of the EU, bought Russian vaccines for its 29,000 citizens and has become the envy of Italy. The United Arab Emirates, a world leader in mass vaccination—ahead of both the U.S. and the U.K.—has not only used China’s Sinopharm vaccine but is planning to co-produce a version under the name Hayat-Vax, from the Arabic word for “life,” a decision clearly made with an eye toward marketing in the Arab world.