The debate around vaccine nationalism has sprung up once again after the United Kingdom, and the European Union (EU) locked horns over vaccine supplies in the last coming weeks.
On one side of the debate, nations should be prioritising their citizen’s immunity, while in contrast, there are calls for more collaboration when it comes down to vaccinating people.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of WHO, is one of the many individuals who has previously spoken out against vaccine nationalism by saying that it would only “prolong the pandemic, not shorten it.”
In late January, the European Union (EU) tried to stop EU produce vaccines moving from Ireland to Northern Ireland by triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol that is part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
This protocol allows an open border between the EU and North Ireland, meaning there are zero controls on exported products.
However, article 16 does allow in certain circumstances either the EU or the UK to cancel exported products that in their eyes are deemed to be causing “economic, societal or environmental difficulties.”
By having such an article in place and with the EU experiencing production issues with its supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the EU triggered this article to control their vaccine exports.
However, in doing so, it caused a considerable reaction from Dublin, Belfast and London.
To try and calm the situation down AstraZeneca said that they would expand its vaccine deliveries to the EU by 9 million by next month, according to European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.
After constant talks between the EU and the United Kingdom, the EU retracted their article 16 claim, allowing EU produce vaccines to go across to Northern Ireland.
Despite opinions from both sides of this issue, this whole saga has reignited the debate on vaccine nationalism.
Whilst I understand the collective mindset that the WHO has, I firmly disagree with it.
As a citizen of the United Kingdom, I feel that it is correct and proper to prioritise British citizens. Nations would be irresponsible and morally bankrupt to not give rights of first refusal to its citizens.
The vaccines are being distributed, free of charge, by the NHS. UK taxpayers are well within their rights to question and challenge such an idea.
They pay taxes which funds the health system, which means they are entitled to receive the vaccine before anybody else.
It is not immoral to want to stay alive and be vaccinated against a virus before somebody else. The sooner we get vaccinated, the sooner life can return to somewhat normal.
The NHS is there to serve and protect UK citizens. It’s called the National Health Service, not the International Health Service.
People would argue that it is immoral to not contribute some spare vaccines to the poorer international arena, out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness.
The truth of the matter is that, at this moment in time, there are a limited number of vaccines and that there will always be those who miss out. That’s the sad reality of the situation.
This is not an ego problem, or a ‘patriotic’ problem. This a legal and moral issue.
The UK, like any country, simply has a decision to make as to who is prioritised. It’s a catch-22 situation. With this being the case, the only other factor is to whom the UK shows its loyalty and allegiance, which would be the citizens. Britain cannot (and should not) help other countries before it helps itself.
What this EU-UK vaccine row has confirmed is that organisations and nations lack a moral compass.
The EU’s move shows that politics is getting involved over health, ethical and legal considerations of this vaccination process and more broadly, the pandemic itself. However, the EU is not alone in this one. According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, rich nations that only represented 14% of the world’s population have bought up to 53% of the eight vaccines so far. Meanwhile, nearly 70 countries can only vaccinate one in ten people against this virus for this year. Canada has enough vaccines to vaccinate their citizens five times over, while South Africa expects only to vaccinate 3% of its population.
The economic gap between high to low-income nations might have shrunk, but a new gap has started in terms of vaccinations. As much I want to be selfish and say that we should prioritise ourselves, my moral compass is tingling. Hate to break it to the anti-globalists and the ultra-nationalists, but our world is interconnected, and this virus affects everyone. Having some parts of the world vaccinated while other parts of the world struggle to vaccinate their key workers will create more mutations, more lockdowns and more economic damage. By concentrating on ourselves, we will prolong this pandemic.
Us Brits might return to normal in a few months, but those who are not as privileged as us will not have this potential reality. Coronavirus is a severe global issue, which needs a united globe to tackle this issue. Vaccination nationalism must be replaced with vaccine globalism, or else we will never return to normal. The question is, are people willing to listen to their moral compasses or their egos.