In the US, it is reported that we are almost at the point where there is going to be a surplus of vaccines. Now that vaccine programs are underway all over the world, the issue of inequality of access has started to loom large, with accusations that wealthy countries are hogging most of the supplies.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has criticised what it describes as a “shocking imbalance” in the distribution of coronavirus vaccines between rich and poor countries.
The group’s chief said a target of seeing vaccination programmes under way in every country by Saturday would be missed.
The WHO has long called for fairer distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
It is leading the Covax scheme which is designed to get jabs to poorer nations.
So far, more than 38 million doses have been delivered to around 100 countries under the scheme.
Covax hopes to deliver more than two billion doses to people in 190 countries in less than a year. In particular, it wants to ensure that 92 poorer countries will receive access to vaccines at the same time as wealthier countries.
“There remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Friday.
“On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people have received a Covid-19 vaccine. In low-income countries, it’s one in more than 500,” he said.
High-income countries currently hold a confirmed 4.6 billion doses, while low-middle income nations hold 670 million, according to research by the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.
China is stepping into this breach and sending its vaccines to many of the poorer countries.
China is on the verge of expanding its international influence as it adroitly wields what is arguably the most valuable export of the moment, COVID-19 vaccines.
The global rollout of Chinese jabs amid a serious shortage of doses, especially in low- and middle-income countries, is helping Beijing attain a new kind of soft power that could easily translate into global clout. At least 70 countries and territories have either approved Chinese vaccines or struck deals to receive doses from China.
The recipients of this outreach include countries covered by Beijing’s Belt and Road global infrastructure drive as well as Latin American nations that have not signed onto the program.
China had exported 115 million doses by the end of March, according to Airfinity, a British company that provides real-time life-science intelligence. By comparison, India had exported 63 million doses, most of which were vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine that it makes under license.
The European Union, meanwhile, has shipped 58 million doses to the U.K., Japan and other countries.
As for output, China has produced 230 million doses, far more than what the U.S., Europe or India have made.
It is clear that China is using vaccine diplomacy as part of its strategy to gain global influence, adding global vaccination passports to enable freer travel between countries.
Beijing has made no secret of its intention to use its vaccines for diplomatic gain. Guyana abruptly scrapped an agreement with Taiwan to open a representative office in the South American country shortly after China offered to donate vaccine doses to the country.
China, already campaigning for mutual recognition of health certificates, recently launched a coronavirus vaccine passport program. It has also begun issuing an International Travel Health Certificate and announced plans to simplify procedures for entry into China for foreign nationals who have been administered Chinese vaccines.
A vaccination pass or passport proves the holder has been inoculated against COVID-19, or shows that the holder has tested negative for the virus.
The passports are controversial as they could lead to a decoupling of sorts. China’s International Travel Health Certificate will prioritize foreigners entry only if they have received a Chinese vaccine. But Chinese vaccines have not been approved in most industrial nations.
China is also asking other countries to recognize its passports, holding out the carrots of economic exchanges and Chinese tourists pouring across borders with their UnionPay cards.
Industrial nations that have not approved Chinese vaccines will have to weigh the benefits.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry is already negotiating with countries for mutual recognition of these certificates, stealing a march on other global powers.
While China is promoting its own vaccine passports to enable travel, as with everything pandemic-related in the US, the idea of vaccine passports has become a controversial partisan issue here.
China has shown itself to be very adept at using soft power to gain global influence, so that even crises like the pandemic become an opportunity to expand their reach.