China, russia and india: long before the global vaccination initiative covax last week, the first 600.After sending thousands of vaccine doses to the first recipient country, ghana, the three countries together have already delivered millions of vaccine doses to dozens of poor countries.
While the rich western world is slow to get going with its vaccination aid for the poorer countries, china, russia and india are offering themselves as saviors in times of need. Vaccines are the new truth in diplomacy.
Critics complain of a "new power politics," a struggle for spheres of influence in africa, latin america, asia and even eastern europe. But many countries often have no other chance. The alternative would be to get no or too few vaccines or to have to wait too long for them. "In the pandemic, access to vaccines means lives can be saved," says achal prabhala of the shuttleworth foundation in south africa, who works with the people’s vaccine campaign, an umbrella organization of the development agency oxfam, to promote fair access to medicine.
He dismisses concerns and asks: "shouldn’t the primary question focus on how lives will be saved in the pandemic, and less on what the end game will be or what potentially diabolical political consequences this vaccine diplomacy will have in the long run??". Of course, china, russia and india expanded their soft power or improved their image – just as western donor countries did. "It is not completely altruistic."
Developing countries have had to wait "endlessly" for sufficient vaccines through the covax initiative, which is organized by the world health organization (WHO) and the gavi vaccine alliance. It would take until 2024 to achieve a vaccination rate similar to that targeted in western countries. "China and russia are doing a much better job. Many times over," prabhala says. They have also taken a more cooperative approach by building vaccine production facilities in other countries, which is attractive.
The covax campaign, for which billions of dollars in funding were announced at the virtual summit of the seven major industrialized nations (G7) a week ago, is buying from western vaccine manufacturers. These are overrun by customers who are prepared to pay more. China has provided covax with ten million doses of the drug. But the emerging world power itself is already cooperating directly with some 80 countries – from hungary to sri lanka, the united arab emirates to zimbabwe, laos to peru. Ministry says 53 countries get vaccines donated from china, another 23 buy supplies.
According to estimates, china, russia and india have already shipped tens of millions of vaccine doses around the world, whether sold or donated. Russian media hail sputnik V as an export hit that could bring in more billions than russia’s arms trade. There are orders in the millions from all over the world. At last count, more than 35 countries had registered the russian vaccine, it is reported. It is known that the first countries have started sputnik vaccinations, including the EU country hungary as well as belarus and venezuela.
Almost simultaneously with the launch of its vaccination campaign at home, india began giving away the vials abroad – 6.75 million doses so far, according to the ministry of auben. India calls aid "vaccinemaitri", in german "vaccine friendship". Neighboring countries were first, followed by other countries. In addition, india has sold an additional 29.44 million doses abroad.
India hopes to gain influence ? Especially in the face of its rival china, as experts say. China has gained increasing influence in sudasia, which india actually considers its sphere. Economically and militarily, india is inferior to china. But when it comes to vaccines, india leads the way, producing about 60 percent of the world’s supply. Prime minister narendra modi stresses that vaccines from india should help humanity.
In india, several manufacturers have licensing agreements with foreign companies, and they are also doing research on their own vaccines. For example, the astrazeneca vaccine, which is also licensed in the country, is manufactured in india. Novavax or sputnik are also expected to follow later on. To produce more vaccines for the world, countries such as india and south africa and a coalition of development organizations are calling for patent protection to be suspended and the technology to be shared.
But this solution failed because of the "blockade of wealthy countries and pharmaceutical companies" that held patents and could thus reap high profits, as the international children’s aid organization world vision complains. "National self-interest should take a back seat, as we are all in the same boat pandemic-wise," says fiona uellendahl of world vision. "If the rich north is vaccinated first, and countries in the south wait a long time before the population is vaccinated, the virus and all its mutants can multiply and invade the north again."