All Vaccines Are Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Others – Liberal Article
In the global race to fight Covid-19, vaccines have always been promoted as the long-term exit strategy. Since vaccines were made available, everyone around the world has been encouraged to get their jabs, protecting themselves and others. However, as my Liberal colleague Beccy has already pointed out there are huge global inequalities in who is able to access these vaccines and the COVAX vaccine sharing programme hasn’t been successful.
On top of this, there is the added complication that not all vaccines are equal in their medical, and political, strength. For example, the Chinese manufactured vaccine, Sinovac, is only 51% effective at preventing symptomatic disease compared to AstraZeneca’s 76% and Pfizer’s 95%. Vaccines are becoming the most highly sought-after resource in the world. With that, we can expect to see the politicisation of vaccines. Each vaccine has a perceived political strength that overpowers its medical strength – the only important factor in my opinion.
With Sinovac mainly being distributed in the global south, this raises huge questions over vaccine equality and the political jockeying that will inevitably take place on the global sphere over global health and international travel. Indeed, an insight into what could come has already begun in the EU. Currently, they do not recognise the four million Indian-manufactured AstraZeneca doses that have been delivered to British citizens meaning travel may still be limited for those with one of these jabs.
I must admit here that I have a very vested interest in this as I received one of these Indian-made jabs, known as Covishield. Covishield is identical to the British-made AstraZeneca jabs, which go by the name Vaxzevria, and are classed by the British government as one and the same. Indeed, on my NHS Covid status, it lists two doses of Vaxzevria, despite the batch number of one being from Covishield.
Despite having had both jabs, the EU only recognises one of them, and, as vaccine passports come into play, there could be complications for travel. Fortunately, several EU countries have independently recognised Covishield; however, the EU’s plans for an EU-wide ‘green pass’ could scupper these efforts. When I took my vaccine, I was told that they were all equal and that any and every vaccine would help us return to normality quicker. Yet, politics have gotten in the way and threaten the integrity of international travel.
India’s response is unsurprising but massively unhelpful for global travel. They threatened a reciprocal response, saying that they will not accept the EU’s ‘green pass’ until the EU accepts their manufactured doses.
This highlights the rather scary prospect that we could begin to see more as global powers start playing the highly geopolitical game of approving foreign vaccines. This will only intensify with weaker vaccines, such as Sinovac, and it could easily result in people facing tougher travel restrictions based on their vaccine. Given Sinovac’s prominence in Africa, Asia, and South America this could exaggerate pre-existing inequalities, limiting trade, travel, and development.
As Beccy pointed out in her article, wealthier countries have been able to buy their way to the front of the queue. Therefore, leaving the rest of the world to fight over what was left and take less effective vaccines like Sinovac. Alternatively, some countries have taken to manufacturing their own, like Cuba’s Abdala and Soberana 2 vaccines.
This has created its own problems as Cuba is not waiting for full authorisation from the WHO; instead, they are administering their vaccines as part of what they call an ‘observational study.’ Whilst the vaccines do report efficacy rates on par with the major vaccines, my major concern is what the circumvention of global regulations will mean, politically, for the recipients of these vaccines. Global health bodies like the WHO exist to globally safeguard and regulate medical practices. This is just as important with vaccines.
The reason for Sinovac’s popularity, despite its weakness, and the deployment of non-WHO authorised vaccines is because major countries overbought the big vaccines, leaving smaller nations to scramble to find an alternative.
Ultimately, any vaccine is better than no vaccine. So one cannot blame countries for accepting what are perceived as lesser vaccines. If countries had equal access to all vaccines, there would be no vaccine superiority. It seems highly unjust that wealthy countries and blocs may be able to impose harsher restrictions on those without one of the ‘Big Five’ vaccines.
All vaccines are equal, but some are more equal than others.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Luca Boyd
Point of Information
Countries must work past these issues – A Conservative Response
This article raises strong points about the need to recognise vaccines regardless of origins. I agree that these problems represent a big problem for international travel. It shows how discriminatory vaccine passports are, though they aren’t mentioned at all. This discrimination, as my colleague points out, is based on politics. It is not whether or not the vaccine is any good. Thus, people with “lesser” vaccines are barred from international travel. My simple solution to this would be to get rid of vaccination passports. Instead, focus on testing as a way to restart international travel. Besides, while vaccines do severely limit the chances of getting COVID and spreading it, they don’t 100% prevent the spread of disease.
However, seeing that the opposite of scrapping vaccine passports is going to happen, a more realistic solution must be found.
Some of this hesitancy can be understood though. Both Russia and China have been less than forthcoming with data. In regards to the Russian jab, Putin announced that it was ready for emergency use even before Phase 1 and 2 trial data had been published, let alone Phase 3 even beginning. China has a long record of being opaque about COVID-19. So to an extent, it is understandable that there is an increased scepticism when it comes to vaccines from countries that have been secretive about COVID-19. Cuba has also been withholding data about COVID-19 as my colleague mentions, this only serves to disadvantage their own citizens.
However, China has surprisingly led the way in recognising other vaccines. China has recognised Pfizer, Moderna and the Johnson and Johnson vaccines on applications for gaining entry to the country. While this isn’t all of the “Big Five” (the most notable omission being AstraZeneca) it’s more than Western countries can say for recognising Chinese jabs. The WHO has recognised the use of both the Chinese vaccines. The rest of the world should too. While I appreciate the need for caution around those not being transparent with data (as highlighted above), China has clearly given enough data for their vaccines. We should approve them quickly, with the same speed that the earlier jabs were approved.
Though it is another example of realism in the world. States won’t approve them because their citizens are receiving jabs. The example of China further adds to the hostility and mistrust the West feels for the country. If you can hold their citizens out, then you’re preventing spies from entering. However, instead of easing tensions, this only adds to them. Reciprocity would go a long way to defuse tensions and ensure the global south can travel freely.
The EU also proves that they’re also run by realist logic. There is no better way to discredit AstraZeneca than by blocking people with their vaccine from entering! However, it has several detrimental effects. It unjustly blocks people who have had jabs from that batch from going to several countries for no reason whatsoever.
Member states can choose to independently recognise vaccines, and 15 EU states will accept the Indian made AstraZeneca jab, including Germany, Greece, Spain and Ireland. This just proves that the EU Commission is out of touch with its members, and refuses to accept the reality that Covishield is an equal dose.
Finally, it completely undermines COVAX. The WHO has given the Covishield batches Emergency Use Listing, meaning that they are used in the COVAX scheme, which is largely used in African countries and thus blocks many of those travellers. It is hypocritical that the EU, as part of COVAX, will not recognise Covishield internally. But externally it is quite happy for the doses to be used. This will have the effect of increased vaccine scepticism, right when we don’t want an increase of that.
If international travel is to fully open up again, then countries must overcome this realist logic. And realise that anyone who has received a vaccine, no matter where they have come from.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
The result of a failed global effort – A Labour Response
Luca makes some great points in this article. Before the vaccination programme began, I warned of the danger that an inequitable distribution of the vaccine poses. We have now seen this occur in ways that I did not imagine. We have seen overt “vaccine nationalism” mean the COVAX vaccine sharing scheme has been unsuccessful. This is evidenced by what the WHO Chief described as a “shocking imbalance” in the delivery of vaccines between rich and poor countries. In Africa, vaccines are so scarce that less than five per cent of Africans have received a single dose. This includes those at high risk such as front line workers battling a deadly third wave of COVID. This is a stark contrast to wealthier countries, such as the UK.
It is because of this that Luca is right when he says that we cannot blame poorer countries for distributing vaccines with lower effectiveness. It is utterly unfair for the same countries that bought up the more effective vaccines in direct deals with vaccine producers, outside of COVAX, to then discriminate against citizens of poorer countries. These citizens are simply accessing the best of what they can get. Furthermore, Luca also adeptly warns of the effective politicisation of the different vaccines that this creates, as shown by India’s reciprocal response, threatening to not accept the EU’s vaccine passport.
Written by Deputy Chief Labour Writer, Brian Byrne