Since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, the global economy has paused, medical systems are overloaded and people’s health are threatened. Facing this uncertain moment, everyone is asking: When will the pandemic end? With the development of vaccines, people see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
However, with limited global vaccine production, who has access to vaccines is not only a public health problem but also a sociology and international politics issue. Rich and powerful countries can acquire a vast number of vaccines by using their hard power, but economically disadvantaged countries have difficulty obtaining vaccines. In order to address the uneven distribution of vaccines and achieve fairness and justice in vaccine acquisition, COVAX was founded in April 2020. Thus, we themed this issue “COVAX and Global Vaccine Distribution.”
With the advent of vaccines, vaccine diplomacy and vaccine wars have become hotly discussed topics in the current international relations field. In particular, China has recently continued to strengthen its foreign relations through vaccine donations, especially to African countries, which seems to have strengthened the long-standing image of South-South cooperation between China and African countries.
However, Dr. Hsiao-Pong Liu, professor in the Graduate Institute of Development Studies at National Chengchi University, points out in his article “Vaccine, Debt and South-South Cooperation: Sino-African Relations under COVID-19” that although China is providing vaccines to African countries, the quantity is not very large compared to other countries. Furthermore, because the pandemic emerged from China, African countries will not be particularly impressed when they receive vaccines from China, limiting China’s intention to use vaccine donations to expand its influence. Professor Liu believes that African economies have been affected by the pandemic, which has impacted the ability of African countries to repay their debt to China. This is a major challenge that could cause the deterioration of relations between China and African countries in the future.
But from a global perspective, China’s vaccine diplomacy still poses a considerable threat to the United States and European countries. Dr. Chin-Kuei Tsui, assistant professor in the Graduate Institute of International Politics at National Chung-Hsin University, mentions in his article “Biden Administration’s Vaccine Diplomacy and Political Confrontation among Major Powers under the COVID-19 Pandemic,” that Russia and China are extending their power to developing countries through vaccine diplomacy. For the EU and NATO, the entry of China and Russia into Central and Eastern European countries could possibly reduce the unity of the two organizations in dealing with issues related to Russia and China in the future. Professor Tsui also notes that besides Central and Eastern Europe, nine out of the ten ASEAN countries have purchased or accepted vaccine donations from China. Thus, China’s vaccine diplomacy in Southeast Asia or other Asian countries may impact the Indo-Pacific order that the United States has actively constructed since the Trump administration.
From the observation of Professor Tsui, we can see that China’s vaccine diplomacy has brought a structural transformation to the global strategy of great powers, especially for the United States. Although the United States had a late start in adopting vaccine diplomacy due to its severe pandemic situation, the March 12 summit meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue signaled the beginning of U.S. vaccine diplomacy. This could be seen as an important practice of the Biden administration to promote multilateralist diplomacy according to Professor Tsui.
Additionally, in this issue we invited Dr. Tzung-Wen Chen, professor in the Department of Sociology at National Chengchi University, to analyze Taiwan’s vaccine governance from a sociological perspective. In the article “Vaccine Governance and Taiwan’s Foreign Aid Strategy in Response to COVAX," Professor Chen mentions that “COVAX is just one of the pillars of the Access to COVID-19
Tools (ACT) Accelerator. Epidemic prevention cannot only rely on vaccines and vaccination cannot be a tool that operates alone; there must be joint efforts of the other three pillars." Therefore, Professor Chen believes that while Taiwan is at a disadvantage in the production and procurement of vaccines, Taiwan still has many experiences worthy of sharing, such as virus screening, personnel isolation, vaccination system, health education, etc.
In the two special reports titled “Enlightenment of COVID-19 to Global Public Health Care" and “Vaccines are National Power: How Does the Taiwanese National Vaccine Team Fight the Future?” we interviewed Minister of Health and Welfare Dr. Shih-Chung Chen, Dr. Kung-Yee Liang, president of the National Health Research Institutes, and Dr. Huey-Kang Sytwu, vice president of the National Health Research Institutes.
In the interview, Minister Chen says, “The COVID-19 pandemic is actually causally related to the unsustainable development of the environment by humans.” Human development not only drives rapid economic growth but also leads to environmental destruction and ecological disasters. The outbreak of the pandemic can be said to be a warning sign from nature to mankind.
On the issue of vaccines, Minister Chen says after the advent of vaccines, what is more complicated is the distribution of vaccines and the speed of delivery. At present, many advanced countries have begun to accelerate vaccinations and have large stocks of the vaccine. In contrast, many vulnerable countries cannot obtain enough vaccines. Minister Chen believes that the consequence of this will give the mutant virus a chance to spread. Regarding Taiwan’s acquisition of vaccines, Minister Chen states we will get vaccines for Taiwanese people through external procurement and domestically- made vaccines. Finally, Minister Chen suggests that in addition to using Taiwan’s anti-epidemic experience as an example in assisting friendly countries to develop basic public health systems, Taiwan can also share surplus domestic vaccines.
The interview of President Liang and Vice President Sytwu focuses on the national vaccine team, with both mentioning the importance of the domestically-made vaccine. President Liang emphasizes that “Taiwan has to develop its own vaccines to avoid being marginalized!” and Vice President Sytwu believes that “Facing various infectious diseases, vaccines are definitely a long-term solution for disease prevention and protection. Many countries also regard domestically-made vaccines as a national power.” Additionally, in the interview they also introduce the progress of Taiwan’s national vaccine team, providing the readers with more information about domestically-made vaccines at a time when vaccines are urgently needed in Taiwan.