The need of Vaccine Diplomacy in the COVID-19 pandemic

On Friday 26 February 2021, a shipment of COVAX COVID-19 vaccines are offloaded at the airport in Abidjan.

There is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted each of our lives. It has been more than a year since the first cases were identified and communicated to the public, while it spread around the globe at an incredibly rapid pace. Today, everyone is eager to go back to live their lives freely, without worries of getting themselves nor their loved ones sick. Thankfully, scientists have given us a solution to this pandemic: COVID-19 vaccines.

The different types of COVID-19 vaccines were made in record time thanks to previous research, a never-before-seen number of resources to fund scientific research, and the incredible public’s willingness to volunteer in the clinical trials to ensure their efficacy and safety. Now, we need everyone to have access to the vaccine and get the respective doses to achieve herd immunity (immune protection of a population thanks to vaccination or immunity developed through a previous infection) and thus, see the greatly desired end of the pandemic.

Yes, the vaccines are being manufactured, but how can we make sure that they are distributed equitably? The answer is vaccine diplomacy.

History has taught us that low- and middle-income countries have struggled to get access to vaccines during serious disease events like the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. This struggle is due to the vaccine nationalism phenomenon. Vaccine nationalism occurs when high-income countries buy vaccine doses for their citizens, without thinking of the rest of the world’s population. After these high-income countries secure vaccines for their country's use, then global access to the vaccine happens. When vaccine nationalism happens, vaccine diplomacy comes in to counter it. Vaccine diplomacy is a global health aspect that focuses on the delivery and use of vaccines around the world, which is not an easy task but a necessary one.

Why should high-income countries be the only ones receiving vaccine doses to lower the disease cases and death burden due to COVID-19 in their communities? Just because of their wealth and the supposed power money gives them? Real power is thinking about other countries that do not have the same resources as them and do something to help the people in their communities who are just as important. But sadly, it does not come naturally, so these countries need a little push to do it.

Yes, the vaccines are being manufactured, but how can we make sure that they are distributed equitably? The answer is vaccine diplomacy.

COVAX and global access

The little push comes from the vaccine diplomatic community, by making efforts to stimulate cooperation between countries to ensure fair and equal access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Good examples of this are the work of an international collaboration between the World Health Organization (WHO), Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) called COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access), alongside the work of the key delivery partner United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in which will greatly benefit low- and middle-income countries against vaccine nationalism. COVAX has started to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to lower-income countries that would be unable to afford these vaccines, alongside UNICEF who has started to deliver syringes to administered said vaccines.

Another aspect of vaccine diplomacy that I perceive as equally important as the administration of COVID-19 vaccines is how we can deal with the waste that is being generated from the vaccinations of gloves, masks, packing materials, vials, and syringes. Some persons are saying that the benefit of the vaccine outweighs any concerns about that type of medical waste that is being generated, but I think waste management is something we should already think about for the benefit of our environment. If low- and middle-income countries do not have the resources to buy vaccines to administer them, we also need to help them deal with waste management and not contaminate their country.

As a scientist, I wish for each human being to receive the benefits of these vaccines to lower the disease burden. But as a human being, equitable distribution of a life-saving solution is the thing I want most because every person has the right to live a healthy life with their loved ones. No one should have that opportunity taken away from them just because their country does not have the necessary resources to provide it to their citizens. Vaccine diplomacy is the most important aspect to see the end of this pandemic and get back to being our free selves.

United States of America