This pandemic is indeed a crisis, but it is also a much-awaited opportunity! The pandemic has paved the way for the construction of a new socio-cultural dimension of cure which is hitherto applicable only for the patients (mostly from the lower rung of society) suffering from ‘poor diseases’ (such as HIV, TB, Malaria) – the path of ‘access to’ treatment, medicine or vaccines is a new qualifier in this regard. Current forms of global governance are unable to comprehend this ‘culture of cure’ that has changed the utility function of vaccine from preventive medicine to social medicine. What is more, challenged by a pandemic global governance’s chief development methodology, global public-private partnership, is proving counterproductive: Access to vaccines is now a matter of competitive nationalism and thwarting global alliances. Likewise, COVAX is causing disequilibrium in vaccine procurement and resulting in global public inequity.
Against the backdrop of these complicated governance outcomes, the debate over support for a TRIPS waiver may appear as a typical North versus South fight. But that is perversely counter-intuitive. Gone is the unipolar world, where a handful of affluent countries, like the G7, monopolise governance space. In this new multipolar world countries with different status, both affluent and emerging economies (such as the G20), share governing platforms with non-state actors. This multipolar world prioritises ‘market-friendly’ governance at the behest of the capital-politics nexus, all over the world. Thus global governance platforms are exclusive to economic giants only (both state and non-state actors), but not to the world’s majority of low and middle-income countries and other international communities. This dearth of inclusiveness constrains global governance from representing ‘the people’ primarily. This gaping void has now given rise to a global identity — people who demand ‘vaccine citizenship’.
This demand cannot be addressed through geo-political governance. Rather, it will eventually redraw the atlas again into two or three ‘worlds’. This crisis can be solved only by reviving faith in international governance and strengthening multilateral institutes. Neither transnational corporations nor bilateral deals can secure vaccines for all; it is the multilaterals that can energise public procurement of vaccines in cash-starved countries in this emergency.
The demand for vaccine citizenship is an opportune moment to create bonds between people across borders. This is a time to shoot for progressive internationalism with a call for public vaccines, using public finance for vaccine research, development and manufacturing, an alluring alternative to the incentivised patent-protected profit churning private vaccines. Global solidarity networks and movements (such as, the People’s Health Movement) may align with progressive, non-violent agitations, unions and associations of farmers, students, trade union workers, employees, gender rights groups, and other voices at the national level. Domestic pressure for a global cause — vaccination for all — could forge international solidarity in these times of crisis.
The world is in need of a ‘politics of solidarity’. The various grassroots-based community initiatives active across the world are breaking the barriers of identities as well as challenging divisive capital-politics linkages to embrace each other. Community collectives in India (Quarantine Students Youth Network), Brazil (favela-based groups) and many other countries are examples of how individuals from various walks of life can come together to help others during the course of the pandemic. This is a lesson for larger politics to realise that people in need always come together on the basis of solidarity.
The pandemic has devastated the lives of people who have always been at the hard end of the global order of capital’s systematic exploitation. For ever-exploited people, vaccinations are no longer just an immunity from the virus, but an inspiration of liberty from the pandemic related restrictions too. Vaccine equity is a programme of global liberation from the restraints of global public-private partnership for international organisations.
Vaccine internationalism is the politics of global justice and peoples’ solidarity!