After all these years of being fed “the end of history” dogma, deeply rooted in the Enlightenment’s ideal of progress and humankind’s universal march toward modernity that is universally liberal democratic, market capitalist, and cosmopolitan in appearance (but only in appearance) – so conveniently taken at face value after the horrors of colonialism and World War II – we have been reminded that nothing should be taken for granted.
The Covid-19 moment does just that by proving that human nature is quite resistant to any meaningful change.
With the virus sweeping the planet, old tendencies have begun coming to the forefront and exposing old Western (European) tendencies to profess its own self-interest and lust to go to war against one another to defend or extend their national interest (as in the case of vaccine wars closely associated with the phenomenon of so-called vaccine nationalism).
Although this time not with bayonets or tanks, the European Union and its former member state the UK have started an all-out fight over access to vaccines, while many countries outside of the Western orbit and in the Global South (the very part of the world underdeveloped by their imperial practices in the past) are still waiting to secure access.
With Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina still waiting in line to receive their first vaccine shipments, and rollouts in Albania and Northern Macedonia being significantly limited because of the EU’s vaccination miscalculations, we are being yet again reminded that the West believes it is the world unto itself and the Rest have to wait patiently for its pitiful acts of mercy driven by political correctness and publicity stunts, or simply perish – all of this, still, in the 21st century.
Although the western Balkan states have joined the COVAX (Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access) program, they have found themselves being marginalized because of their relative wealth as compared with low and middle-income countries covered by the scheme.
“The constant tragedy of the western Balkans is that they are on the fringe,” a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, Allison Carragher, told CNN. “They’re all aspirational EU members, so they looked at the EU program first, but that has been mangled and delayed by supply-chain issues.”
It is therefore perfectly understandable that some countries in the region do not want to take any chances and bet on their citizens’ lives, waiting for the EU’s knight in shining armor to come to their rescue – considering the pledge to provide them with €70 million (US$85 million) to buy Covid shots still being highly doubtful.
The best example is Serbia, where President Aleksandar Vucic seems to understand the changing world dynamic perfectly and the need to cooperate with all countries around the globe, which has managed to secure vaccine deliveries from China (Sinopharm: 1.5 million doses), Russia (Sputnik V: 90,000 doses) and the US (Pfizer-BioNTech: 40,950) directly.
“People in the EU are good people, but luckily I had enough experience and knowledge to assume that it would turn out like this,” said Vucic. “This is a war for people’s lives but also for the future of every country.”
President Vucic’s pragmatic and open-mined strategy not only allowed him to outperform the EU, but also to offer help to other countries in the region. Moreover, Serbia is also now looking to start local production of the Russian vaccine.
Since Central European countries have recently warned about a surge in Covid-19 cases across the region amid the discovery of new variants of the virus that causes the disease, it makes perfect sense that Hungary also shows pragmatism in diversifying its vaccination strategy by also securing both Russian and Chinese supplies, despite a quite abhorrent smear campaign coming from the West.
“Every day that we would spend waiting for Brussels, we would lose a hundred Hungarian lives,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said, repelling the attacks in an interview with state radio on February 12.
“Why would we think that the Europeans are smarter than we are?” Orban said the same day. “This isn’t true. Our professionals are at least as good as any European professional, and I don’t trust a [vaccine] analysis in Brussels more than I do in a Hungarian one. In fact, just the opposite,” Orban added, rejecting claims that only Western-approved vaccines should be used by his country.
Despite the blatant doublespeak oozing from the Western capitals and affiliated media outlets – the phenomenon marvelously explained by George Orwell in his seminal essay titled “Politics and the English Language,” in which “unscrupulous politicians, advertisers … and other ‘doublespeakers’ of whatever stripe, continue to abuse language for manipulative purposes” – the vast majority of the world population struggling for their lives remains indifferent to their propaganda campaign against China and Russia.
While Slovakia and Croatia are in talks with Russia over possible vaccine deals, Turkey signed an agreement to produce Sputnik V on its soil, while simultaneously having deals to purchase 50 million doses of China’s vaccine and 4.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.
Moreover, Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Zimbabwe, the Central African Republic and Ivory Coast are also on board with Moscow (as far as Sputnik V is concerned).
What is also worth mentioning regarding Sputnik V – which according to a peer-reviewed study published in The Lancet medical journal this month was found to be 91.6% effective against Covid-19 – is that it can be stored in a fridge rather than a freezer (making it easier to transport and distribute in poorer and hotter countries), as well as being cheaper than its Western alternatives.
On the other hand, Senegal, Morocco, Zimbabwe, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Pakistan, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil seem to be absolutely fine with China’s vaccine supplies – the same country that promised to make its vaccines a “global public good” for the world on May 18, 2020, and put its money where its mouth is by donating vaccines to Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia free of charge.
What is more, as Feng Duojia, president of the China Vaccine Industry Association, argued in a recent interview with Global Times, China’s “total capacity will eventually reach 4 billion per year, covering 40% of world demand.”
When it comes to the West, we can see a stark contrast to the behavior of Moscow and Beijing.
As was reported on February 12 by The Lancet, “governments in high-income countries, representing 16% of the global population, have struck pre-orders covering at least 4.2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines,” which means that they have managed to secure “at least 70% of doses available in 2021.”
On top of that, a report by the ONE Campaign anti-poverty group estimates that Australia, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union combined have secured more than 3 billion doses, which is over a billion more than the 2.06 billion needed to vaccinate their population with two doses – keeping in mind that these surplus of vaccine doses would be sufficient to vaccinate the entire adult population of Africa.
The practice of vaccine hoarding by the West is not only contributing to “unprecedented acceleration of global inequality,” as French President Emmanuel Macron rightly noted (although in a strictly geopolitical competition context related to winning influence over Africa by offering it some symbolic vaccine crumbs), but is possibly also pushing up treatment prices – something that was suggested by World Health Organization director Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in November last year.
Since according to Oxfam the majority of the world’s poor are still unlikely to be immunized this year (which will slow down global recovery), the West’s selfishness and shortsightedness will work to its own detriment too, as the cost of the global pandemic will continue to be as high as $1.2 trillion per year, according to a RAND Europe research paper published last year.
Moreover, high-income regions (including the US, the UK and the EU) are forecast to lose around $119 billion per year until a global recovery is secured.
A separate report by the International Chamber of Commerce published in January this year estimates that the West could lose about $4.5 trillion and the global economy $9.2 trillion if efforts to administer vaccines in developing countries are not improved.
What is equally important to remember is that “if the virus can thrive in any part of the world, the risk of new variants increases and it is only a matter of time before strains emerge that undermine the vaccines and tools that have been developed to fight Covid-19,” as ONE Campaign rightly argues.
We “need global leadership to scale up vaccine production and achieve vaccine equity,” according to a joint statement by UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore and WHO director Ghebreyesus published early this month, yet the West seems to be too fixated on itself to comprehend “that our fates are inextricably linked.”
Although this selfish behavior could also be observed during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, it is a huge underestimation to associate it merely with simple “vaccine nationalism.”
I do believe this Western-centrism – the concept glorified and pushed so vigorously by the Western mainstream press and politicians – is nothing more than white supremacist instinct adapted in more a respectable way into the realm of the global political arena, where hypernationalistic thinking demarcates who is worthy (and who is not) to survive in the world dominated by the Western liberal order driven by the ruthless and highly inhumane neoliberal rationale.
It is also the same logic that tells us which vaccines should be used in the fight with the virus, and which should be othered for no other reason than economics – as if only Western vaccines were capable of saving human lives.
The very “survival of the fittest” logic seems not only to be preventing the West from adapting to the new multipolar reality, but unfortunately suggests that the West is still unable to reform itself in a respectable manner to co-exist sustainably with others in order to survive this great pandemic test as one human civilization.
As Ghebreyesus rightly noted, “whether we win or lose, we will do so together,” so I rather prefer “vaccine diplomacy” (of which the West accuses non-Western countries) over intentional vaccine genocide (which in effect the West practices).