Global politics is now familiar with several new words following the outbreak of the ever deadliest Coronavirus pandemic, among which one new term is "Vaccine Diplomacy." Diplomacy is an English word, derived from the Greek word "Diplon," which means folding. It is quite conceivable that diplomacy is such a relationship that is traditionally kept in a folder without being opened. To unveil the artifice of diplomacy, Winston Churchill, the erstwhile Premier of England, opined that "Diplomacy is such an art, by which when you invite someone to make a journey to hell, he will willingly ask you the address to get there." Diplomacy is a very ancient concept that proceeded at an equal pace with the development of the idea of a state. Vaccine diplomacy is being heard worldwide nowadays. From the humanitarian perspective, many countries have extended a helping hand to the most affected countries. And through this, the amazement of vaccine diplomacy is spreading all along. A few days ago, China and Russia were behind in this diplomacy race. India's race in the vaccine in South Asia was eye-catching. Except for Pakistan, India has given the vaccine to all South Asian countries, to some extent as gifts too. The vaccine diplomacy of India was a hot topic of discussion to others. Suddenly, a topsy-turvy coronavirus situation badly grabs India as the infection cases, and death toll started rising in huge numbers since March 2021 compared to those of other countries of the world. In the meantime, China and Russia have appeared in the steering seat to snap the existing diplomatic field and control the vaccine source. Russia takes the initiative to supply vaccines to 70 countries, while China plans to include 90 countries in its vaccine supply chain.
The Sputnik of Russia, the Sinovac of China, and the Pfizer of the USA, three vaccine manufacturers, are engaged in producing and developing supply channels in and outside the countries. Both Russia and the USA are highly interested in investing in the corona vaccine in India. China is already in talks with South Asian countries. France, Russia, and the USA have already delivered the necessary equipment and tool to India to deal with Covid. Though the USA did not respond immediately to help India at the beginning of its unrestrained corona shock, there was a conflict between the two countries on India's purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia. On the other hand, India's relation with China is critical, and very recently, it deteriorates for joining QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue). Global politics is quite unpredictable, and it is challenging to assess which country will finally take the lead on a unanimous global issue. A few days ago, the "AstraZeneca" covid vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India was considered a soft power to make a strong network with other countries. Now this country is in serious trouble at the national level due to the unprecedented shock by the second wave of Covid. India is now far away from the race to become a world power for the Covid vaccine. To combat Covid, China is the most advanced and successful in dealing with it now. The British daily "Guardian" said that the lockdown practice implemented by China was so savage, but it proved worth and effective ultimately. Seemingly China's economy, however, is hardly affected following the ongoing deadliest second wave prevailing in many countries. In terms of Corona diplomacy, China is now on the scene and heading actively towards strengthening corona diplomacy in South Asian countries in the absence of India. Bangladesh has already shown keen interest in manufacturing the vaccine of China and Russia as this country has an in-built infrastructure with existing medicine production plants in many of its pharmaceutical companies. Therefore, it can be forecasted that China and Russia, though competitors to each other, will be advancing in the vaccine business, keeping other parties behind. The United Kingdom and European Union are still lagging behind in vaccine diplomacy with the rest of the world.
China has already formed a "Storage Platform" referring to the "Emergency Vaccination Storage Facility for Covid-19 for South Asia" to face any corona-like disaster. This platform is a collaboration where six South Asian countries like China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and the Maldives have joined and held a meeting on vaccine-related essential issues. The six countries agreed to work together to keep the required stock of medicine, including most notably, corona vaccine, to respond for post-corona poverty elimination, where required, and how to ease people's lives with an e-Commerce facility. This alliance has set a crackdown that the import of medical instruments by any member country of the ally will require prior approval of other members. The World Bank has already provided $500 million (50 crore) to Bangladesh to procure vaccine from the fund of $14 billion (1400 crore) that was formed focusing on corona handling issues of 9 South Asian countries. Moreover, Bangladesh was given a loan of $1.50 billion (150 crore) for recovering the post-corona-affected economy. In the present situation, the World Bank pledges to extend financial support of $2.0billion (200 crore) more to 17 countries, including Bangladesh, to ensure procurement and supply of corona vaccine for those countries.
The role of diplomacy is infinite in the selection of vaccines. There are some basic questions frequently raised in people's minds regarding which vaccine has more efficacy, which is safe for people or if there is adequate supply or availability of the vaccine, etc. So instead of depending heavily on good friendship with a country, Bangladesh should keep the interest of its 100 per cent people vaccinated, provided all the questions above are met. Bangladesh had an enormous scope and potential to become a vaccine-producing country. But in the beginning, we could not search out all other alternatives and scrutinise our capacity. Though it is a bit late, we finally could understand the insides behind the global vaccine business of others. This is the high time for Bangladesh not to be silly again, instead explore the best alternative to ensure vaccine for the people.
On the other hand, maintaining a good quality of vaccines is equally essential. So, Bangladesh must have a robust vaccine infrastructure and distribution network. After four months of the vaccination campaign, Bangladesh has administered more or less 9.5 million doses of the corona vaccine against its target of around 265 million doses. A survey from BRAC University has said vaccine cold-chain infrastructure in Bangladesh is yet to develop. The government needs to pay more attention to a higher vaccine stock. Undoubtedly, the efficacy of vaccines would be challenging to ensure at the peripheral or rural level if it is absent. The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) will have to think of it without wasting time anymore, and it is vital to respond to this emergency issue just now.
As the vaccine crisis continues, the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is not yet ensured for almost twenty-eight hundred thousand people who took 1st dose two months ago. The response from the UK to get the short supply of this vaccine is not as much as expected. China has already provided 500 thousand (5 lakh) doses of vaccine as a gift to us, and Bangladesh has resumed the vaccine programme again with the supply of China. Our government is lobbying vigorously to procure the best quality vaccine for the people. Our Hon'ble Prime Minister has already sanctioned Tk 100 billion (10 thousand crore) to procure vaccines. So, by and large, it brings some light of hope that all the country's people could be brought under the vaccination programme very shortly.
Md. Ziauddin Iqbal is Senior General Manager of PKSF
Email: [email protected]
Mst Marium Begum is a faculty member of Life Science and Registered Pharmacist
Email: [email protected]