The word stockpiling marked its place the public vocabulary thanks to its increased used during the Covid-19 pandemic. From secret personal stashes of hand sanitiser or self-raising flour to national hordes of PPE, we have come to associate it with greed and selfishness rather than forethought. Although it could be argued that vaccine stockpiling will protect a nation, or specific group of people, the evidence from recent years demonstrates that unless global herd immunity can be achieved through vaccine equity, further strains will evolve from those not privileged with access.
Vaccine Nationalism is described by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as a ‘me-first approach’. Putting the interests of a single nation above a global goal is a decidedly unfriendly but, more importantly, it leaves the poorest people in the poorest countries vulnerable. This is a clearly a tragedy of inequality, but it is surprising to note that even the global consequences – potential for increased numbers of variants and infections – are not enough to dissuade policymakers in higher income countries from signing exclusive deals and stockpiling.
In 2021 Human Rights Watch reported that 75% of Covid vaccines had gone to 10 countries. According to Airfinity, the world’s richest countries were withholding 1.2 billion doses from countries who needed them. Dr Linley, lead researcher at Airfinity, said that 241 million vaccines were at risk of going to waste, not because these countries were greedy, but they didn’t know which would work.
Vaccine nationalism is a hugely unsustainable and impractical approach to a pandemic, as has become evident in the multiple variants springing out of unvaccinated populations. How can we encourage the wealthier or more dominant countries to change tack to divide and conquer? Unfortunately, it seems as though Monkeypox might ask us to explore this sooner than previously imagined.