The UN General Assembly in September last year was a pivotal moment in the pandemic, when leaders began to show some unity as global deaths approached a million. They had learned hard lessons from the damage that hoarding protective equipment had done, they said. When a vaccine was developed, the world’s most vulnerable would be first in line, they claimed.
The vaccines are now here and that solidarity has frayed. Between the United Kingdom and the European Union, it has disappeared entirely and given way to an all-out battle over who is more entitled to tens of millions of doses produced by British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca. Meanwhile, many countries in the global south have yet to administer a single vaccine.
The ugly vaccine nationalism that the World Health Organization and other public health advocates feared is here. And it’s beginning in Europe, the region that usually boasts the world’s greatest levels of equality by many measures.
The spat revolves around the EU’s deal with AstraZeneca, which recently informed the bloc it would not be able to supply the number of vaccines the EU had hoped for by the end of March. EU leaders are furious that the company appears to be fulfilling its deliveries for the UK market and not theirs.