Nations Jockey for COVID-19 Vaccine, Create 'Vaccine Nationalism'
Even before a vaccine for the novel coronavirus has been completely developed, nations across the globe are jockeying for position to lay claim for the potential preventative medicine in something of a healthcare arms race.
But, this vaccine nationalism, as it’s being called, could have a significantly negative impact on the global economy and health. Analysts at Eurasia Group said over the course of the late summer and early fall of this year, and likely to extend well into 2021, world governments will do what they can to procure the medication in hopes of returning society to a pre-pandemic normal and stimulate stagnant economies. In fact, some governments, including that of the United States, has already pushed itself to the front of the vaccine line by making large-scale investments into vaccine development. Eurasia Group pointed to investments made by the Biomedical Advanced Research Development Authority (BARDA) into two of the leading COVID-19 vaccine programs as an example, CNBC reported this morning. BARDA, in conjunction with the U.S. Operation Warp Speed, has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to Massachusetts-based Moderna, which is developing an mRNA vaccine candidate, as well as to U.K.-based AstraZeneca, which is working in conjunction with The Jenner Institute at Oxford University on a vaccine candidate.
Earlier this month, it was reported that the U.S. government snapped up the bulk of the world supply of Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir, which has been approved to treat severe COVID-19. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it acquired more than 500,000 courses of remdesivir for use in U.S. hospitals. That amount represented almost all of Gilead’s production for the month of July and a significant chunk of production levels for August and September as well.
Other governments are also flexing their financial muscles to secure a potential vaccine. Eurasia Group pointed to a deal between the government of Canada and China-based CanSino Biologics. Eurasia Group noted that the Canadian government signed a deal with the Chinese company to manufacture its vaccine for clinical trials in Canada this summer. That should give the nation an “inside track” to gain doses of a potential vaccine, the group said.
The European Union has also made investments in hopes of gaining priority access to the first doses of an approved vaccine.
While the wealthiest companies are using their finances to bolster their positions, non-profit health organizations are trying to provide some routes for poorer countries to obtain a vaccine when one becomes available.
Ian Goldin, professor of Globalization and Development at the University of Oxford and ex-vice president of the World Bank, told CNBC it will be important for global health if there was a more equitable spread of the vaccine across the globe. Goldin told CNBC that if the virus mutated in parts of the world that were unable to access the vaccine, Covid-19 would once again pose a threat to global public health, even for those who were immunized.
“We don’t know how long these vaccines will last and how effective they’ll be,” he said. “So it’s not a solution either on equity grounds or on self-interest grounds.”