By Ray Tellili
(2021) Vaccine Nationalism is the practice of tackling the global pandemic with a nationalistic response when vaccines are in short supply. That is to say for example, that a vaccine producing country prioritizes its own citizens over those of other countries. Sounds reasonable, except where some countries had signed-production and delivery agreements with various pharmaceutical companies that happened to be in other countries. So basically, the state jumps into stop pharmaceutical companies on its territory from exporting vaccines to countries that counted on signed contracts and global supply chain trust. This is a major wake up call.
It demonstrates the paradox of globalization. Globalization is predicated on inter dependency. We are way better off as a species when we cooperate. And cooperation requires trust. Globalization has been amazing to most of us – not all, but most, and anyone who does not understand that has to be prepared to give up eating kiwis in winter or using their iphones or enjoying those Walmart prices. Global supply chains are predicated on the concept that everything is a-OK. But, we have now witnessed what can happen to global supply chains when its each to their own.
We need to be prepared. Look what happened with all the masks, personal protective equipment and ventilators. Export curbs is what happened, as everyone scrambled to get supplied and or retool. At one point, even asthma inhalers were difficult to get! We’re not talking about toilet paper here. And now we are seeing it with vaccines. This is not just a wake up call – it’s a dress rehearsal for the really dangerous threats lurking on the horizon.
If I’m the government, and I’m looking at a typical global threat assessment chart in the near to mid term future like this one below, you can see the
the impact severity on the y axis and the likelihood of it happening on the x axis. I’d be looking at everything of course, but the top right corner is obviously the most concerning. Now knowing how nations will react when there’s a shortage as we have seen with vaccines and PPEs – that is they either restrict exports or hoard, I’d be preparing. On this chart and pretty much all similar charts: infectious disease and climate action related events are the most impactful and the most likely. Therefore as a government, I would definitely aim for medical or pharmaceutical security AND this is the big one: food security! Climate change is affecting food security. And so if something goes wrong in one of the world’s great food growing regions due to drought related climate change; what do you think will happen? That’s right – export curbs, and food nationalism.
Not having enough masks is one thing, not having enough vaccines is another, but not having enough food is a whole other magnitude of pain. In a country like Canada for example that has good food security, you would still see shortages – most fruit and veggies are imported from the US, Mexico or elsewhere. Would our neighbours honor NAFTA (USMCA) or other trade agreements during a real crisis? Well, we know the answer now. So how do you prepare? Depends on which country you live in. Maybe countries should be looking at preparing for more greenhouses, and agricultural AI, fertigation and vertical farming. Technologies and solutions exist and priorities and tax breaks and whatever it takes should be shifted to projects that promote sustainable self reliance on key industries, starting with pharmaceuticals, and food, among others. Most importantly, serious investments need to be made in sustainable agriculture.