Political tensions between countries are getting higher as the coronavirus vaccine is on its way. China, the United States, and Europe have started rivalry.
The launch of SpaceX may have started the new era of the space race, but no less interesting game is taking place on Earth. Countries all over the world are investing billions of dollars in the development of vaccine against coronavirus not only to save millions of lives but also to hold geopolitical power for a long time to come.
Globally close to 6.5 million people have been confirmed to have the coronavirus. But scientists warn that millions more may be infected, and we will get the exact number of cases only after we have everyone tested. The death toll is up to 400 000 people.
China, the United States, and Europe are the main players in the vaccine race now. Each of them wants to be the first to deliver the vaccine in order to get or regain global power, fame, and leadership. Just like each of them is bringing the nationalistic element to the table.
During the last six months after the virus began its killing spread, Chinese, European, and American pharmaceutical companies have been cooperating. But behind the scenes, there has always been a share of competition, which if won, would allow the country to please its citizens and have an economic advantage in a post-pandemic world.
A coronavirus vaccine is a power tool now. And just like security services, energy resources, military, or any other power tools, the countries want to have their own medicine in times of the crisis.
As for now, more than 100 vaccines are being developed, with 78 of them being “confirmed as active”. North America is leading the race now with 46 percent of active vaccine candidates, whereas Europe, China, and Australia have 18 percent each.
However, contrary to the space race, in the chase for the vaccine, a private sector prevails. Among all confirmed vaccines, up to 78 percent are being developed by private companies. It involves pharmaceutical giants like Sanofi or GlaxoSmithKline, but the majority are smaller biotech enterprises.
Distribution is the main problem we will face
Indeed, the development of any vaccine is a very difficult and time-consuming process. COVID-19 vaccine is not an exception, though the scientists have shown good cooperation, which considerably accelerates the process of creating a drug.
But it is the distribution of the anticipated vaccine that will be the main stumbling rock. The country that will be the first to invent the vaccine will, first of all, keep it until everyone within the country has access to it. It will lead to controversies all over the world, and especially in regions severely hit by the coronavirus. “Of course, it would be better if countries would share the vaccine with states that need it most, but from an economical point of view countries that invested money in the creation of this cure will try to keep it to themselves,” says Dmytro Konkov, professor at Vinnytsia National Medical University.
It is also expected that the vaccine will cost a lot of money, which means that poorer countries will have less chance to get it no matter how serious the situation. “Sadly, decisions are often reached based on bias and where power is located,” says Dr. Stephen Tomblin, a professor in the Department of Political Science and Medicine at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. “The poor, people, and communities whose health is compromised usually lack power and hence suffer more and pay more.”
Winning in this vaccine race will also guarantee financial and influential immunity after the pandemic. Not every country has a manufacturing capacity, so those who will not be able to produce the vaccine will have to buy it from the country-inventor. But even the countries who have laboratories and enterprises will depend on the winners of the race and will have to accept the terms and conditions.
It is believed that when the vaccine is ready, it will be distributed during G-20 meetings, which gives a light of hope that the spreading of the cure will not be long or complicated.
However, it is very likely that just as in the past, the vaccine will not go to countries based on need but rather profit. “In policy terms that makes little sense, but profit often trumps functional needs of citizens or communities,” says Dr. Tomblin.
Chinese vaccine with propaganda flavor
China is clearly showing that it wants to win this race and to win it fast. The invention of the vaccine will give China a chance to spread its influence on poorer countries surrounding it, as well as on China`s old competitors – Europe and the United States.
“Should China be first to find the cure/vaccine for the New Coronavirus pandemic it will most probably use it for shrill political, anti-democratic propaganda (…) not only in Africa but in Europe as well,” says Dr. Kovalio, a professor in the Asian Studies program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
China`s vaccine companies are working in a very closed political system, notorious for covering up multiple safety scandals and hiding them from the international community. The Chinese were also involved in several schemes of stealing intellectual and research property from other countries.
The development of the coronavirus vaccine has already been used as propaganda of the Chinese government. Some time ago, a photograph of Chen Wei, a virologist in the People’s Liberation Army, spread all over the Internet. In this photo, Chen Wei was getting a “presumably first” working vaccine. Soon it turned out that this photo was fake because it was taken before Chen Wei even went to Wuhan.
Already after the virus reached Europe, Chinese propaganda began to go beyond the borders of China. When the pandemic started, the European countries limited the export of medical supplies, whereas China was sending its medical experts and equipment all over the world. It shook Europe`s unity and made European countries depend on China.
“European solidarity does not exist,” said Aleksandar Vucic, the Serbian president when announcing the state of emergency. “That was a fairy tale on paper. I believe in my brother and friend Xi Jinping, and I believe in Chinese help.”
The United States strives for exclusivity
The USA is still the main victim of the novel coronavirus with almost two million people contracting the disease and more than 100 000 deaths.
So far, a biotech firm Moderna is showing the most promising results on the government-funded vaccine. The USA scientists and politicians believe that we will get the vaccine in the first half of 2021.
“When a vaccine is ready, the U.S. government will deploy every plane, truck, and soldier required to help distribute it to the American people as quickly as possible,” Trump said.
But some experts are worried that if the vaccine is in shortage, some wealthy or influential people will skip the line, being the first to get the vaccine, just like some of them did during the deficit of COVID-19 tests.
According to the New York Times, during several meetings with the pharmaceutical companies, Donald Trump insisted that the vaccine should be produced on American soil, so that the USA can control its later distribution. A German newspaper, the Welt am Sonntag, quoted a German government official saying that Donald Trump tried to lure a German company CureVac to get a vaccine for the United States, “but only for the United States.”
After not attending some important virtual conferences, Donald Trump declared May, 29 that the USA will terminate its relationship with the WHO, stating that “China has total control over the World Health Organization.” The move was highly criticized by the international community. “The demonizing, gutting of WHO has undermined science, knowledge construction based on evidence and helped push the power of political decision-makers at the executive level,” says Dr. Tomblin. “Donald Trump has undermined technical decision making, shifted the technical-political balancing act, and this has produced bad behavior and outcomes. We are in a very bad place as a result of these decisions.”
United We Stand, Divided We Fall
The European Union does not lag behind in this race, either. A European commission has promised billions of dollars to develop an effective treatment. The European governments pledge that the vaccine should be “available, accessible, and affordable to all.”
As for now, Europe has up to eight promising candidates, including the CureVac, all of which are funded by the European coalition.
The European Union insists that any publicly funded research should stay in the public domain. The reason for it is that the public funding allows getting the vaccine to all the countries who need it, even the poorest ones.
At the same time, despite the common for all countries European Patent Office, each country independently decides the cost of the drug.
Germany, Italy, France, and the Netherlands have recently joined their forces to make sure that the EU has access to any potential vaccine for the fears that either China or the USA may try to control the production and distribution of the cure. The four countries described the invention of the vaccine as “one of the most urgent issues that the European Union has to address at present.”
Strategy Is The Key
The whole world is now facing a series of very difficult questions. The pandemic took by surprise even the most powerful countries, and raise a lot of doubts about the efficiency of our healthcare system.
COVID-19 divided the world once again. And if the country that invents the cure against it will usurp the power, the world will be divided even more.
So far, neither scientists nor politicians know how we will share such a powerful resource as the vaccine. But it is very important to figure out the distribution strategy now so that when the vaccine is ready, the decisions are made quickly and effectively.