The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to the heightened significance of vaccine diplomacy.
But the rising demand for coronavirus inoculations has cultivated an era of good feelings between vaccine-producing countries and those in need. This unique relationship has induced some countries to use vaccines as a means to expand international reach throughout the global south.
According to The New York Times, approximately 953 million vaccinations have been administered globally, equaling 12 doses for every 100 people.
Inoculation rates, however, vary significantly between continents.
In North America, the vaccination rate is measured at roughly 42 doses administered per 100 people — the highest in the world. Thereafter, Europe’s rate is 25; South America’s rate is 15; Asia’s rate is 9.4; Oceania’s rate is 4.5; and, finally, Africa’s rate is 1.1.
Last year, international leaders launched Covax to address the increasingly wide disparities. The international vaccine-sharing network plans to deliver 1.8 billion doses to 92 lower-income countries by year’s end.
But political and national incentives are heavily influencing where some of the inoculations go.
For the West, vaccine diplomacy signifies monetary donations to the Covax fund — a promise by the U.S. State Department “to provide further assistance to support the global COVID response.”
Other than the University of Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine, the West has failed to deploy a large-scale distribution effort that matches the vigor of Beijing, China, or New Delhi, India.
Clashing Interests in the Orient
Meanwhile, China and India have launched the most far-reaching and ambitious vaccine distribution plans to vaccinate the global south.
Both of their methods far outperform their Western counterparts.
For Beijing, the distribution plan commenced with the delivery of vaccines to 14 countries throughout the world, with Pakistan receiving 1.2 million doses of the nation’s Sinopharm vaccine, according to The Diplomat.
Since then, China has supplied “vaccine aid” to roughly 53 countries, while pledging to procure another half a billion doses for the global community, according to The Associated Press.
Beijing’s global inoculation campaign has also found a foothold outside the sphere of regional Chinese influence. Apart from Pakistan in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates was the first nation to approve China’s Sinopharm vaccine, partaking in the third phase of its clinical trials earlier this year, The Diplomat reported.
In South and Central America, China has introduced its vaccines into nearly every country. Despite showing a lower efficacy rate than Western or Indian vaccines, Sinovac gained a foothold in Brazil, then spread throughout the region as other countries accepted donations or ordered a shipment.
In Central America, Mexico is now a hub for Chinese vaccines, offering every authorized Chinese dose in the nation.
Among China’s neighboring countries, Beijing has secured a vaccine market share in nine out of 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The logic behind China’s vaccine diplomacy has been to donate its dose to countries in large quantities, subsequently waiting for the recipient country to purchase shots in the future.
The policy has given Beijing a significant head start globally, while most other vaccine-producing countries have been primarily focused on inoculating their domestic population.
In Asia, however, the Indian government has invested heavily in projecting their own vaccine diplomacy and their endeavors have found success in a critical regional battleground.
In Sri Lanka, the Narendra Modi government gained access to the coastal nation’s vaccine market, outperforming their Chinese counterparts in a key regional battleground.
Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal are among the countries that have received most of India’s vaccine shipments.
This region sits at a critical choke-point in southeast Asia. Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh are positioned in between the two global powers. According to The Guardian, in recent years, New Delhi and Beijing have vied for influence in the region, leading to violent skirmishes between the two nations.
According to Reuters, the Modi government has shipped 100,000 vaccines to Paraguay at the behest of Taiwan — a geopolitical move that strikes at the nerve of the Beijing regime.
Overall, India has supplied coronavirus vaccines to more than 90 countries, keeping in stride with the Beijing regime, according to Foreign Policy.
In an attempt to counter China’s increased influence in the region, the United States, Japan, Australia and India have pledged to deliver a billion-dose pact to Asia.
That plan is expected to generate tangible results in the future, but the West’s failure to produce a widespread global vaccine distribution plan has placed their future diplomatic efforts at a strategic disadvantage.
For the benefit of the world, a global inoculation project will give countries a functional path for reopening. Accomplishing such an endeavor will require global herd immunity against the virus, which will be highly difficult to obtain without increased allocation from all vaccine-producing countries, including those in the West.
Without material results, the West is forgoing an attempt to build new relationships throughout the global south — a strategic move needed to challenge increased Chinese influence.
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