The relationship between global health issues and international politics isn’t recent. For centuries states have had to interact with the structure of the system due to infectious diseases and health epidemics such as Typhus, Small Pox, Cholera, Spanish Flu, Scarlet Fever, Polio, Bubonic Plague, HIV, Lyme Disease, and the Yellow Fever. Ever since international and regional trade was coupled with globalization, governments and healthcare professionals started recognizing the threat of chaos and contagion from such illnesses. By the early twentieth century, WHO and other global institutional mechanisms were created to bind common consensus of such international health crises by both the global south and global north.
What appears to have originated from Wuhan, a city in China, in late 2019 was soon declared as the global pandemic by the WHO by March 2020. During its early onset, there was very little understood about the COVID-19 virus. Due to their cultural, political, social, and economic factors, states varied in their capacity to respond to the crisis. Some nations had to impose tighter lockdowns and policies regarding halting domestic and international travel, social distancing, masks, testing kits, and more, while others, including the United States, quashed the pandemic as nothing more than a myth. Subsequently, with the development of the vaccines, various new debates emerged in the IPE (International Political Economy). Let’s learn how finance, production, security, and knowledge structures affected the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.
Interaction of Knowledge, Finance, Security, and Production Structures
The distribution of vaccines on a global scale relies on a web of processes such as spending, institutions, investors, research, manpower, capacity, technological innovation, and diffusion of medical breakthroughs. In a nutshell, the complex dimensions of normative and material-based powers determine factors of output, production, and distribution.
The unequal distribution of global health isn’t novel. During 2018, a handful of leading global powers constituting only 11% of the global population, namely Germany, France, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom, accounted for 70% of the global health spending. If we look at the average health spending per capita, the low-income countries spend an average of $50, whereas the high-income states had an average of $3414. Additionally, health spending patterns vary across upper-middle-income, high-income, and low-income countries.
Moreover, low-income countries usually tend to increasingly get external aid while private and public health spending experienced a notable decline. Hence, when it comes to global health spending patterns, affordable and easy access to medical resources remains restricted for the developing or under-developed world. In addition, the fragmented and weak healthcare structures in low-income countries are bolstered through corruption, political decay, patronage networks, lack of accountability, and vested interests, which further adds to the intricacies for the masses to access even the basic healthcare resources.
Concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, over 182 potential vaccines were reported to be in the preclinical development phase by the pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, and academic institutions by the end of July 2020. However, the vaccine development lead rested in the ambit of a few wealthy and powerful states such as China (SinoPharm, CanSino, SinoVac), the United States (Moderna, Novovax, Johnson and Johnson), Russia (Vector Institute, Gameleya), and consortia between Sweden and the UK (Oxford-AstraZeneca) as well as Germany and the UK (Pfizer-BioNTech). What’s alarming is that by mid-2021, only 2.3% of vaccines were administered to the fifty world’s poorest countries as opposed to 82% of the doses reaching the high-income countries. A study revealed that many countries in the Global South were constrained due to the intellectual property laws and couldn’t access the vaccines, which aggregated the global inequalities. Suck financial disparities and constraints depict impediments for the under-developed and developing world to access the vaccines for COVID-19 in a timely manner, despite COVAX, a co-led venture between the WHO, Gavi, CEPI, and UNICEF to make vaccines accessible for the world’s poorest.
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