In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest challenges Africa is facing is vaccine supply. This is currently constrained by bilateral negotiations with key stakeholders or through the COVAX vaccine facility under the joint stewardship of WHO, Gavi and UNICEF. The newly-appointed head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, from Nigeria, told the BBC that vaccine protectionism must be overcome to solve the pandemic, adding that “a phenomenon where rich countries are vaccinating their populations and poor countries have to wait” must be avoided.
Currently, there’s no international trade law obligation to export vaccines to Africa. None of the 164 World Trade Organization Members has a duty to export vaccines, nor an enforceable right to obtain access to them. A relaxation of WTO rules on intellectual property has been discussed, so that more drug manufacturers could manufacture the jabs, but it has encountered opposition from the pharmaceutical industry and some States.
The current unequal repartition of vaccines indeed makes the African continent dependent on the willingness of other countries to give away vaccines or develop a more ambitious policy around health-related intellectual properties. Vaccines can now be considered, more than ever, as an emerging diplomatic tool for countries such as the US, European countries, China and Russia. New international
players are also emerging out of the pandemic such as India and the UAE thanks to the “vaccine diplomacy”. Can we now consider vaccines to be an emerging diplomatic tool reshaping bilateral and multilateral relationships globally? Who are the main stakeholders in this sector using vaccines to secure a rising influence?