Vaccine diplomacy: Russia and China gain influence in Latin America as the US & EU engage in vaccine hoarding

By Gretel Cuevas
Latin America Analyst 

The race for the coronavirus vaccine has been far from equitable with rich countries hoarding as many doses as they can while developing countries struggle to get a few. While the European Union, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom have pre-ordered at least twice the doses to immunise the entirety of their population, 142 countries have not been able to secure vaccine deals.[1] According to a study by the Economic Intelligence Unit, low and middle-income countries may not have widespread access to vaccination until 2024.[2] Latin America is one of the most affected regions with 15% of the world’s reported Covid-19 cases and less than 3% of the global vaccine doses administered so far, according to data collected by Oxford University.[3]

As global inequality over vaccines becomes more evident, China and Russia are increasing their opportunities to consolidate their global influence with “vaccine diplomacy.” Similarly, to their Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in 70 countries to develop infrastructure,[4] China’s and Russia’s aid is filling a vacuum that could increase its economic control in the region. Up to day, China agreed to provide Brazil, Chile, Colombia shipments of their Coronavac vaccines, while Russia has secured deals with Argentina, Bolivia, and Mexico to roll out its SputnikV.[5] Beyond the supply of vaccines, Beijing has taken the lead in supplying countries in Latin America with protective equipment, oxygen tanks, and medical supplies extending its geopolitical reach. For instance, Peru which suffered a severe oxygen shortage has started to look in China for alternative providers of medical supplies as the United States and Europe have shown no willingness to create a more equitable distribution of resources.[6]

The increasing inequality in the vaccine distribution has also increased innovation in the region. Cuba is the only Latin American country developing four potential COVID-19 vaccines. After gathering 21 research centres and 32 companies, Cuba will be the first country in the region to have a vaccine in phase three by March 2021.[7] This way, Cuba may be one of the first countries that achieve to immunise the entirety of its population. Besides their own success, Cuba has started conversations with Russia to become a manufacturer of their Sputnik V vaccines. Both countries have started forging important alliances that may be the solution to provide enough doses to the rest of Latin America.

The influence of China and Russia in the region is not something new. Both countries have gradually increased their influence through the provision of loans, government-subsidised projects, and even a Chinese space mission control station in Patagonia.[8][9] The insufficient supply of COVID-19 vaccines has become an opportunity for both countries to influence what has been for a long time the United States’ background. In other words, the inequality involved in the vaccine distribution is not the cause of this shift in geopolitical trends, but a catalyser of a process that has been on its way for a long time.

Besides the increasing influence of China and Russia in Latin America, the existing inequality is highlighting the need for international regulation and greater solidarity between nations. While vaccines are running low in the Latin American and African region, the EU secured a deal with Pfizer-BioNTech to acquire 300 million doses, half of its current supplies.[10] Similarly, the UK has acquired around 367 million doses from different companies, which is more than five times its population of 67 million.[11]

Furthermore, global inequality is translating into serious health inequities at the national level. With enough doses to protect the population, countries are recurring to similar measures at their interior. In Colombia, president, Iván Duque, announced that there are no plans to vaccinate undocumented people. Currently, more than 1.7 million Venezuelans have migrated to Colombia flying away from the harsh economic and humanitarian crisis. This situation, is leaving behind the most vulnerable groups of our society which may have serious social implications in the long term.

Defeating the pandemic requires that all countries, not only the richest ones, can access the vaccine as soon as possible. However, this will not be possible if Latin America, Africa, and other regions of the world with low political and economic clout will have to wait long to get enough doses. For instance, Mexico, the first country in Latin America and the 13th in the world to secure some contracts with pharmaceutical companies, has only been able to acquire enough doses to vaccinate 0.18% of its population.[12] According to Mexico’s Ministry of Health, at this rate, they won’t be able to vaccinate a significant part of their population until at least March 2022. This is bad news for the United States as there is a constant influx of people from their southern neighbour, demonstrating the need for a coordinated international effort to guarantee equitable and fair access to the vaccine.

References

  1. Fenton.Harvey, J. (2021) ANALYSIS – The consequences of global COVID vaccine inequality.” 2 Feb. 2021, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/analysis/analysis-the-consequences-of-global-covid-vaccine-inequality/2131116. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.
  2. Our World in Data. (2020) “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations ….” https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.
  3. Council on Foreign Relations (2020) “China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative | Council on Foreign ….” https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-massive-belt-and-road-initiative. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.
  4. Pozebon, S. (2021)Coronavirus vaccines in South America: Inside the region’s race to ….” 3 Feb. 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/03/americas/coronavirus-south-america-vaccinations-intl/index.html. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.
  5.  Reuters. “Reuters Cuba’s top epidemiologist expects COVID-19 vaccine in 2021.” 12 Aug. 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-cuba-vaccine-idUSKCN2582AQ. Accessed 8 Feb. 2021.
  6. Rosenberg, C. (2020) “China Poised to Be First to Distribute Virus Vaccine in Latin America ….” 14 Dec. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/02/us/politics/coronavirus-southern-command-china-latin-america.html. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.
  7.  VOA News. “Mexico First Latin American Country With COVID-19 Vaccination ….” https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/mexico-first-latin-american-country-covid-19-vaccination-program. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.
  8. Amaro, S. (2021). CNBC NEWS. “EU announces 300 million more doses of Pfizer-BioNTech covid ….” https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/08/eu-announces-300-million-more-doses-of-pfizer-biontech-covid-vaccine.html. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.

 

[1] Worldindata.com

[2] “ANALYSIS – The consequences of global COVID vaccine inequality.” 2 Feb. 2021, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/analysis/analysis-the-consequences-of-global-covid-vaccine-inequality/2131116. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.

[3] “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations ….” https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.

[4] “China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative | Council on Foreign ….” https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-massive-belt-and-road-initiative. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.

[5] “Coronavirus vaccines in South America: Inside the region’s race to ….” 3 Feb. 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/03/americas/coronavirus-south-america-vaccinations-intl/index.html. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.

[6] “Coronavirus vaccines in South America: Inside the region’s race to ….” 3 Feb. 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/03/americas/coronavirus-south-america-vaccinations-intl/index.html. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.

[7] “Reuters Cuba’s top epidemiologist expects COVID-19 vaccine in 2021.” 12 Aug. 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-cuba-vaccine-idUSKCN2582AQ. Accessed 8 Feb. 2021.

[8] “China Poised to Be First to Distribute Virus Vaccine in Latin America ….” 14 Dec. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/02/us/politics/coronavirus-southern-command-china-latin-america.html. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.

[9] “From a Space Station in Argentina, China Expands Its Reach in ….” 28 Jul. 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/28/world/americas/china-latin-america.html. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.

[10] “EU announces 300 million more doses of Pfizer-BioNTech covid ….” https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/08/eu-announces-300-million-more-doses-of-pfizer-biontech-covid-vaccine.html. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.

[11] “ANALYSIS – The consequences of global COVID vaccine inequality.” 2 Feb. 2021, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/analysis/analysis-the-consequences-of-global-covid-vaccine-inequality/2131116. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.

[12] “Mexico First Latin American Country With COVID-19 Vaccination ….” https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/mexico-first-latin-american-country-covid-19-vaccination-program. Accessed 7 Feb. 2021.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: