CONTOURS OF NEO COLONIALISM IN GLOBAL VACCINE DIPLOMACY

By: ZAINAB IFTIKHAR

How ironic it is that a virus invisible from a naked human eye can manage to topple down the world and its dynamics. Breaking out of Corona Virus, its spread across the globe, the diversity of consequences faced by the individual states, a year to the production of vaccine and then the neo colonial lines reinforced into its distribution unveiling global health diplomacy all make it evident how the dynamics of the world could be reversed in months. Starting from the blame games regarding coronavirus to its geostrategic implications and the entire enigma between COVID-19 and politics, COVID-19 and economies have shaken the world. Being more particular the inequalities in the global health are unveiled, making it evident how the colonial legacy is yet prevailing, now in the shape of vaccine diplomacy.

Health Diplomacy requires an engagement of “all branches of government and non-state actors to find solutions to health problems”. Since the same phenomena can also be global, given the inequalities and North-South division, a truly global coordination becomes necessary – giving way to Global Health Diplomacy. Such a global coordination was also needed amid the pandemic especially as it spread to countries with weaker health systems.  The impact of the Corona Virus pandemic revealed various dimensions of Neo-colonialism, not only in the sense that the response carried elements of a “colonial hangover” but also in the sense that the latest torch-bearers in Global Health Diplomacy did not let go of the chance to pursue their own interests even in times of a distressing pandemic. Not only their interests have been secured, but their global image has also further “softened” while that happened.

The behavior of Global North is well depicted by the fact that “82% of the 832 million vaccine doses” distributed went to high- and upper-middle-income states, while only “0.2 percent went to low-income ones”. One out of every four persons in high-income states has been vaccinated, compared to one out of every 500 in lower-income states.

This reality can be articulated by stating that “old colonial lines are being strengthened.” As western countries grow closer to fully vaccinating their population, much of the global community is terrified of newer COVID strains, as well as the pandemic’s lengthy effects and economic ramifications. The United States has enough vaccinations to vaccinate three times its citizens. Meanwhile, as of mid-February, 130 nations have yet to administer a single dose of vaccination. Vaccine access is not expected to be widespread in some areas till 2023. While there are concerns about disparity inside western countries such as the US and the UK, the broader issue is how governments’ avarice has resulted in a distinct and frightening type of global inequality.

For want of a better description, the United States is hoarding vaccines. It all started with Donald Trump’s denial to engage in Covax, a worldwide project aimed at ensuring the provision of 2 billion vaccines to poorer world. Joe Biden decided to join Covax, but has put the group on the back burner for the time being in order to ensure that Americans be vaccinated first and foremost even if high number of vaccines goes unused. After receiving considerable backlash, Biden agreed to donate some superfluous immunizations to Canada and Mexico. This is more of a self-interested effort, designed to ensure that the US vaccination programme is not jeopardized by the presence of unvaccinated countries on its frontiers. These immunizations are effectively loans, in typical American style.

Canada is putting its own interests ahead of those of other states. The privatization of a government-owned vaccine lab hampered the country’s own operational plan. Given much worldwide condemnation, Canada still decided to employ Covax for its own gain, purchasing 1.9 million vaccine doses that were originally scheduled for poorer states.

The rest of the western world is behaving similarly as proven by these figures that EU has ordered 1.6 billion doses of vaccines for its 375 million adult population, UK has ordered 219 million full vaccines for its 54 million people (a surplus of 165 million) while Canada has ordered 188 million full immunizations for its 32 million adults (an excess of 156 million)

This neo colonialism in global vaccine diplomacy has carved out a new stratum of haves and have notes i.e. vaccinated vs unvaccinated. We are perilously close to a day when vaccinated and unvaccinated states form a new stratum of haves and have-nots, colonizers and colonized, rich and needy.

The quality of vaccine purchased or received must be examined in light of the long-term disparities of European colonialism in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to a New York Times analysis of vaccine delivery by vaccine type and revenue, AstraZeneca and Oxford administered 611 million immunizations, Pfizer-BioNTech administered 293 million immunizations, and Moderna administered 206 million vaccines. The three most efficient vaccination kinds were given to high-income states rather than the most of Sub-Saharan African nations, which are mostly low-income.

COVID undoubtedly has revealed the intentions and endeavors of the world in pursuit of their goals, how the pandemic has widened the already existing North South divide and the impact of the Corona Virus pandemic revealed various dimensions of Neo-colonialism and the reality that Covid’s impact on low-income countries has aggravated their already distressful situation. All in all, it can be articulated by stating that “old colonial lines are being strengthened” amidst COVID-19 pandemic.

(The author is a freelance writer and researcher)

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