Coronavirus – Health and Governance Issues

No to vaccine nationalism, yes to global cooperation


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: COVAX project

Mains level: Paper 2- Vaccine nationalism

India has been supplying vaccines to other countries even as its first phase of vaccination covers the health care workers. At the same time, the selfishness of the advanced countries has been on full display by amassing the approved vaccines. The article deals with the issue of vaccine nationalism.

What is vaccine nationalism

  • When a country manages to secure doses of vaccines for its own citizens or residents and prioritises its own domestic markets before they are made available in other countries it is known as ‘vaccine nationalism’.
  • This is done through pre-purchase agreements between a government and a vaccine manufacturer.
  • The advance purchase contracts made by some advanced countries for potential vaccines would vaccinate their population many times: the European Union, two times, the United States and the United Kingdom, four times, and Canada, six times.

Impact on the SDGs

  • The reversal of progress on many Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, such as SDG 3 (“Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages) could affect the health of the world population, and global growth itself.
  • Even before COVID-19, projections have shown that 6% of the global population would be in extreme poverty, which has gone up by 71 million, thereby causing enormous challenges to SDG 1 (“End poverty in all its forms everywhere”).
  • According to estimates by the International Monetary Fund, over 50% of emerging markets and developing economies that were converging toward advanced economies per capita income over the last decade are expected to diverge over the 2020-22 period.

India’s important role

  • While advanced countries have turned their back on the need of poor countries, India has taken a position that a significant percentage of the approved doses will be permitted for exports.
  • While its exports to neighbouring counties will be under grant mode, initial shipment of vaccines to least developed countries will be free of cost.
  • Brazil has received 2 million doses of vaccine from India (as of January 23).
  • While India is in its first phase of vaccination to cover health-care workers, exports from India are helping other countries also in initiating phase one of their vaccination programme — a gesture well-appreciated globally.
  • The ability to produce large volumes of vaccine at an affordable cost underlines India’s importance to developing countries when it comes to drug access.

Need for coordinated global efforts

  • Due to the vaccine nationalism, the arguments of public good and global cooperation have been widely neglected.
  • Nevertheless, India’s approach only reinforces the need of having coordinated global efforts in bringing COVID-19 under control.
  • This response manifests India’s unstinted commitment to global development and has consolidated its name as the world’s pharmacy.

COVAX Project: Unique case of global cooperation

  • The COVAX project is a global risk-sharing mechanism for pooled procurement and fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
  • It is based on funding from high and middle-income countries.
  • Since high and middle-income countries are buying up large amounts of the vaccine directly from suppliers, the promise by COVAX to deliver 2 billion doses by the end of 2021 seems to face new challenges.
  • Since most of the vaccines are purchased from the global south [specifically, India and China] for developing nations, the COVAX project can draw new pathways for global development.
  • Most of these vaccines are cost-effective and affordable to the global south.

Consider the question “What is vaccine nationalism? Examine the role played by India against the backdrop of vaccine nationalism.” 


The development of vaccines is a classic story of global cooperation between the North and the South. Unfortunately, the increasing nationalist tendencies of the democratic World during the pandemic have challenged the positive narrative on global cooperation.

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