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The International Political Economy of Health: The Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution

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The relationship between international politics and global health issues is not coming of age. From the nineteenth century, states have had various interactions at the system structure due to health epidemics and infectious diseases such as Cholera, Small Pox, Typhus, and Yellow Fever, and Scarlet Fever and the Bubonic Plague. It was during the mid-nineteenth century when the International Sanitary Conference of 1851 took place, leading the European States for a multilateral approach towards quarantine regulations. In turn, with regional and international trade and development coupled with globalization, health professionals and governments started recognizing the threat of contagion and chaos from such diseases. The 20th century had also its fair share of similar pandemics and infectious diseases such as the Spanish Flu, Polio, HIV and Legionnaires’ disease and Lyme disease. By the mid-twentieth century with the inception of the World Health Organization (WHO), global institutional mechanisms came in place, hence binding a common consensus of international health crisis by both the global north and south.

First appearing in the Chinese city Wuhan in late 2019, by March 2020 Covid-19 was declared as a global pandemic by the WHO. During Covid-19’s early onset, little was understood about the virus. Simply, countries due to their capacity, cultural, social, political, and economic factors varied in their responses to Covid-19. Some countries had tighter policies towards Covid-19 such as social distancing, contact tracing, lockdowns, identifying asymptomatic individuals, testing kits/methods and halting international and domestic travel, whereas some countries including the US quashed Covid-19 as nothing more than a myth.

The IMF (2020) noted that,

the Great Lockdown the worst recession since the Great Depression, and far worse than the Global Financial Crisis…cumulative loss to global GDP over 2020 and 2021 from the pandemic crisis could be around 9 trillion dollars.

It became evident in mid-2020 that the Covid-19 pandemic was one of the worst catastrophes of the 21st century. According to WHO estimates, 4 million people had died due to Covid-19 worldwide by June 2021. Subsequently, with the development of Covid-19 vaccines, new debates have emerged in the international political economy (IPE). Borrowing from Susan Strange’s (1988) theoretical premise of four primary structures in IPE; security, production, finance, and knowledge, this piece aims at establishing linkages to understand the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines.

Interaction of Finance, Knowledge, Production, and Security Structures

The global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines can be viewed from complex interactions between finance, knowledge, production, and security structures. A web of processes such as institutions, spending, research, investors, capacity and manpower, and technological innovation determine the diffusion of medical breakthroughs. In essence, the complex dimensions of power both material and normative determine factors of production, output, and distribution.

Firstly, unequal distribution of global health (spending, research, infrastructure, and innovation) is not novel. In 2018 five leading global powers, constituting 9% of global population; France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States accounted for 60% of global health spending. However, in terms of the average health spending per capita in 2018; low-income countries had an average of US $40 whereas high-income countries had an average of US$3,313. Furthermore, health spending patterns vary across high-income, upper-middle-income, low-middle income, and low-income states. The primary sources of health spending........

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