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March 2, 2021

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Nationalism might derail fight against COVID-19

While the bulk of limited stocks of COVID-19 vaccines are being hoarded by wealthy countries, most of the world’s population, who live in developing countries, are being left defenseless in the face of the deadly pathogen.

Fighting the pandemic is a common war involving all humanity.

The billions of people who will not be inoculated soon due to the uneven distribution of vaccines are exposing the Achilles’ heel of global anti-COVID-19 efforts.

Junaid Iqbal, a 29-year-old young doctor, joined a field hospital last year in northern Pakistan’s Gilgit to fight the pandemic and his battle has lasted for almost one year.

“Never in my life had I wished to be vaccinated and immune from the virus like I did in the hardest of those days,” Iqbal said, recalling the time when his mother was infected with the virus at home, but he couldn’t go back to look after her.

However, when he realized that rich countries had started rolling out vaccinations for their citizens, he became concerned that it would take a long time for him, a frontline health worker in a third-world country, to be vaccinated.

What concerns Iqbal has also worried Chief of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said in January that deals between some high-income economies and manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines are undermining the WHO-led COVAX initiative, a global initiative to ensure equal access to COVID-19 vaccines for all participating countries.

Of some 50 countries where COVID-19 vaccines are being administered, nearly all are wealthy nations and 75 percent of doses have been deployed in only ten countries, according to the WHO chief, who warned earlier that “the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure” due to vaccine nationalism.

Describing global governance amid the pandemic as “the weakest in contemporary days,” Khalid Rehman, director-general of the Institute of Policy Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank in Pakistan, believed that some countries are seeking to prioritize their own interests.

Prejudices that are being applied in global governance should be abandoned and the world needs to come together against global challenges with “an aim to jointly create a better future for humanity, not for one country, not for a group of countries, but for humanity at large,” noted the Pakistani expert.

In an effort to promote the fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, China has joined the COVAX initiative and vowed to provide 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the program to meet the needs of developing countries.

Liberal assistance

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said last Thursday that China has provided vaccine assistance to at least 53 developing countries and exported vaccines to 27 countries.

Pakistan is the first country to get China’s vaccine assistance in February. Iqbal, who worried about when he could be vaccinated, finally received his first jab, saying that the shot gave him strength to fight against the virus during the second wave of infections in the country.

Earlier in January, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, among other Indonesian senior officials, received his first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by China.

Later, many heads of state including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera received the Chinese-made vaccine shots before massive vaccination programs in their countries, showing their confidence in the Chinese vaccines.

Praising China’s efforts to offer its vaccines to the international community, Margaret Chan, a former WHO chief, said that COVID-19 vaccines are in short supply, but equitable vaccine distribution, especially to developing countries, is critical as the pandemic won’t be controlled until it is controlled everywhere.

“In a globalized world, our vulnerability is universal and the international community must work together in solidarity in the face of a common health crisis,” she said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a clear test of international cooperation — a test we have essentially failed,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on September 24 last year during a video conference, warning that facing the pandemic, “global response is more and more fragmented.”

The authors are Xinhua writers.


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