From ‘Mask Diplomacy’ to ‘Vaccine Diplomacy’ . . .
As wealthy countries worldwide placed vaccine orders from producers in Western countries, less well-off countries were left in the dust. Not only has this sparked criticism about how vaccines are distributed during a pandemic, but such nation-centric actions have also given rise to ‘vaccine diplomacy,’ a younger cousin of ‘mask diplomacy’ that made waves last year. The two leaders of vaccine diplomacy are China and India. China was the first out of the gate with commitments and shipments throughout Southeast Asia and Europe. India, home to the world’s largest vaccine factory, has been shipping vaccines to its neighbours throughout South Asia, with commitments to ship to countries further afield, including Canada.
Smiling for the camera . . .
But vaccine diplomacy is about more than donor countries aiding immunization programs in other countries. For its part, China has pointed to the U.S.'s refusal under former President Trump to make vaccines globally available and shift focus away from the blame-game of the pandemic's origins and early response. India, meanwhile, appears to be taking the opportunity to counter China's influence in South Asia and improve its own strained relations with its neighbours. While vaccine diplomacy may provide both countries with an opportunity to shine, both have stumbled as they deal with vaccine shortages at home. China has also been dealing with issues around fraudulent vaccines and a lack of transparency about its vaccine efficacy rates.
Beware the side effects . . .
Vaccine diplomacy is both a potential remedy to and a symptom of flaws in the global health response to the pandemic. Last fall, South Korea's President Moon Jae-in and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo began calling for more international co-operation on public health, especially around vaccine development and worldwide distribution. But such calls-to-action face strong headwinds. Academics have pointed out the decades-long trend away from global health collaboration in favour of regional and bilateral initiatives. But without increased investment in global health institutions, individual states will have a tough time meeting the challenges of future pandemics. Canada should be continually checking the pulse on bilateral and regional COVID-related initiatives while doubling down on efforts to keep multilateral institutions like the World Health Organization a functioning and trusted body.
- The New York Times: The newest diplomatic currency: Covid-19 vaccines
- The Straits Times: India's Serum Institute to ship AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada in 'less than a month'
- The Wall Street Journal: China’s Covid-19 vaccine diplomacy boosts its influence in Europe