Vaccine Diplomacy

  • IASbaba
  • February 6, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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  • GS-2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countrieson India’s interests, Indian diaspora
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Vaccine Diplomacy

While the leading and advanced countries have been mindlessly selfish in hoarding approved vaccines, it is the Global South countries, India and China, which have provided a ray of hope to most countries.

Vaccine Nationalism

  • The development of vaccines is a classic story of global cooperation between the North and the South. 
  • Unfortunately, the increasing nationalist tendencies of the democratic World during the pandemic have challenged the positive narrative on global cooperation.
  • When a country manages to secure doses of vaccines for its own citizens or residents and prioritises its own domestic markets before they are made available in other countries it is known as ‘vaccine nationalism’
  • The reason countries are going for pre-purchase agreements is because of the longer duration for companies to manufacture such vaccines. It is predicted that worldwide supply may not reach 1 billion doses until the first quarter of 2022

Is Vaccine Nationalism New?

  • A similar situation happened in 2009 during the H1N1 flu pandemic. 
  • Australia, the first country to come up with a vaccine, blocked exports while some of the wealthiest countries entered into pre-purchase agreements with several pharmaceutical companies. 
  • The US alone obtained the right to buy 600,000 doses.
  • It was only when the H1N1 pandemic began to recede that developed countries offered to donate vaccine doses to poorer economies. 
  • However, it must be noted that H1N1 was a milder disease and its impact was far lesser than Covid-19

Advance Purchase Contracts

  • Advance purchase contracts made by some advanced countries for potential vaccines would vaccinate their population many times.
  • The expectation that an early vaccination will bring back normalcy and a required push to economic growth fuelled many advanced countries to engage in vaccine battles.
  • Advanced countries have turned their back on the need of poor countries to access COVID-19 vaccines.

Impact of such actions

  • Inequitable Access: Such advance agreements will make the initial vaccines unaffordable and inaccessible to majority of world population apart from those living in the rich countries
  • Slows Economic Recovery: If countries with a large number of cases lag in obtaining the vaccine, the disease will continue to disrupt domestic economy and thus its ability to recover from Pandemic induced shock.
  • Deepens the Inequality: The gap between the Global North and the Global South is going to further deepen as productivity of human resources are further eroded in Global South due to their inaccessibility of vaccines & continuance of suffering from Pandemic.

India and Vaccine Diplomacy

  • India has displayed empathy to poor countries’ needs.
  • India has taken a position that a significant percentage of the approved doses will be permitted for exports. 
  • While its exports to neighbouring counties will be under grant mode, initial shipment of vaccines to least developed countries will be free of cost.
  • India is in its first phase of vaccination to cover health-care workers, exports from India are helping other countries also in initiating phase one of their vaccination programme.
  • India’s approach only reinforces the need of having coordinated global efforts in bringing COVID-19 under control.
  • This has consolidated India’s name as the world’s pharmacy.
  • It has further enhanced the Soft Power of India and generated goodwill among these developing & least developed countries.
  • This helps dispel the perception amongst neighbourhood that India is hegemonic and a “Big Brother”. Instead it shows that India is a “Responsible Power”

China and Vaccine Diplomacy

  • With the coronavirus largely stamped out at home, China could sell more of its vaccines abroad. 
  • Vaccines “will be made a global public good,” Xi promised the World Health Assembly in May 2020.
  • “vaccine diplomacy” has become a tool to assuage some of the anger over China’s missteps, helping shore up its global standing at a time when it has been under pressure from the United States and others.
  • China’s efficiency at home has not translated into an easy triumph abroad. Chinese vaccines have lower efficacy rates. 
  • Officials in Brazil and Turkey have complained about delays. Still, many countries who have signed up for them have acknowledged that they could not afford to wait months for those made by the Americans or Europeans


  • The COVAX project is a global risk-sharing mechanism for pooled procurement and fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, an ambitious programme based on funding from high and middle-income countries.
  • COVAX is a unique case of global cooperation and a strategic shift to enhance global development outcomes.

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