Oct 15, 2021

Old US tricks, no longer valid in vaccine war!

In Sri Lanka, vaccination was identified as the best solution to control the spread of Covid-19 after various domestic trials and lockdowns. Many who were arguing about the origins of the virus, did not realize the deadliness of the disease until death came knocking at their doorstep. Even the country's political authorities thought the situation could be easily reversed. Maybe our leaders boasted that it was them who did the best, probably because even they thought it was an easy task. However, the 'New Year cluster' made us realize the dire reality. Upon realising there is no other alternative, it was then decided to obtain vaccines even if it required to obtain a loan from the World Bank.

Better late than never, the government had taken this decision and while this was done, the next question raised was 'what is the best vaccine?'. Although experts stated that 'the best vaccine is the first one available', the locals were far from convinced. The younger generation, especially those in the age group of 20-30 years, have been extra skeptical, after coming to believe in various opinions circulating online and refusing to be vaccinated unless they get the Pfizer vaccine. This had considerably hampered the success of the vaccine drive, at a loss to the country.

Regardless of the country in which it is manufactured, any of these vaccines have been proven to enhance the body immunity. And there is no assurance given for any vaccine that the vaccinated person will not be infected by Covid-19 indefinitely. In fact, it has been globally accepted that the vaccines will only reduce the spread of the virus and reduce the death risk. According to experts, using any vaccine approved by the World Health Organization for emergency use is sufficient. Nearly a year after globalwide vaccinations had begun, it is clear that every vaccine is effective in preventing death, with scientific evidence showing none of these vaccines have serious complications on a large magnitude. However, the anti-vaxxers rejecting vaccines while coming up with many claims, are not uncommon either.

It has long been believed that anything that came from the US and the Western world were superior to anything produced in the Eastern world. Although one could argue this being the result of a post colonial mindset, this mindset had been passed down the generations and can be commonly seen even in those born half a century after Sri Lanka gained independence. This is the reason why many have been hoping for the US-made Pfizer vaccine instead of taking the available vaccine. Also, the younger generation that are hopeful of leaving the country have been demanding Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, citing that many countries do not accept other Covid-19 vaccines. However, they are unaware that the Covid-19 vaccines produced in countries such as China, Russia and Cuba are having acceptance issues not because of an issue in the vaccine itself but due to a deeper rooted political issue.

The Covid-19 vaccine war has become the worst economic war in the world. This is why dollar - dependent politicians have been bellowing that the US had offered to provide Pfizer vaccines $5 per jab. However, they are unable to point out when such an offer was made. It was not a mere chance that Sri Lanka ordered 14 million doses of Pfizer vaccines in the backdrop of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) convening in Geneva. But what happened in the end? On October 10, 2021, the US declared that persons who were fully vaccinated with any WHO or  U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved vaccines, are allowed to enter the US. So, did the US do a U-turn? No. It was their plan all along.

When the US initially introduced the Pfizer vaccine, the main issue that surrounded it was the complex method required to store and distribute vaccine stocks. However, such an issue did not occur when it came to other Covid-19 vaccines such as AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Sinovax and Sputnik V. Hence, the more practical storage and distribution requirements made these vaccines more popular. Since the Oxford Astrazeneca vaccine was jointly produced by India and UK, it faced no skepticism. However, the US initially refused to accept the Chinese produced Sinopharm and Sinovac as well as the Russian made Sputnik V. This also led to complications and delays in obtaining the WHO approval. In Sri Lanka too, the Sinopharm vaccine consignment that was received by the country as a donation could not be administered to locals due to the lack of WHO approval back then. Even after receiving the WHO approval, certain high-ranking officials were spreading fear saying taking that vaccine was risky. Even medical associations remained skeptical. Some even said that the vials contained mere water and not any drug. While countries around the world including Sri Lanka reached a point where they only hoped to get Pfizer and Astrazeneca vaccines, many countries were compelled to seek other vaccines such as Sinopharm, Sinovac and Sputnik V as the pandemic continued to spread on a rapid rate. As China was already increasing their global vaccine distribution, the US was still planning out their distribution system. The US initially stated that green light for travel will not be granted to those jabbed with Chinese vaccines, raising doubts and fears in countries where the Chinese vaccines were used. Our younger generation had inadvertently got caught in this elaborate knot woven by the US. However, the BBC World Service had quoted the Chinese foreign ministry as saying (on 23 September) that "China has provided 1.2 billion doses of finished and bulk vaccines to more than 100 countries and international organisations" while claiming to have administered 2.2 billion of its own vaccine doses (as of 27 September). In addition, according to UN data, China has so far delivered around 37 million doses as donations (as of 1 October) out of a total pledged of around 52 million, the BBC adds. It further notes that the figure for US vaccine exports stands at 178,592,930 doses. However, because the price of a US vaccine is higher, profits had also remained relatively high. In terms of vaccine doses administered domestically, China had reached 2.2 billion on 6 October - compared with more than 923.5 million in India, 571.4 million administered in the EU and 398.7 million in the US, according to the website - Our World in Data.

In the end, after realising that they could not reach the desired trade targets through vaccine sales, the US focused on the other issue they faced. That is, re-attracting tourists. From 2010 onward, the number of Chinese tourists traveling abroad drastically increased with the rapid development drive in China. Chinese nationals with the US and Europe as their travel destinations were the super rich who spent a vast amount of wealth to acquire popular consumer brands abroad. According to the website www.statista.com, around 1.1 million Chinese tourists visited the US in 2011. This figure had increased to 3.1 million by 2017. However, due to restrictions introduced with the establishment of the Trump administration, the number of Chinese nationals visiting the US to travel, business, education or medical facilities had dropped. By 2019, the figure had dropped to 2.8 million. Out of all nationalities that travel to the US, it is the Chinese who had spent most as individuals. With former US President Donald Trump practically declaring a 'trade war', China had also refrained from promoting travels to the US. Meanwhile, China had also taken measures to slash tax on luxury goods from the US and to make it more available in the country. Due to this, the number of Chinese tourists visiting the US had been declining from 2020 which had further decreased in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, the Biden administration wants to attract these tourists again. The US is now ready to attract tourists from Europe, China and Brazil. In a shift of policy, the US now says that foreign tourists vaccinated against COVID-19 with a drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration or World Health Organization will get the green light to enter the country in November. Accordingly, such WHO approved vaccines also include the Chinese Sinopharm and Sinovac. Initially, the US successfully engaged in their vaccine sales. Now, they are also working on attracting tourists. Now, what happens to countries such as ours that got misled by these trade tactics? How many of those who remained non-vaccinated while waiting for the Pfizer jab, ended up getting infected? We are still a third world country. It is because of this difference that countries such as the US and China are labeled as 'developed'. What we need to understand is this trade. Until we realize it, we will continue to count our fingers until we receive what is perceived as 'superior products' from global super powers. The world has changed much since the end of the Cold War. The US is no longer the sole superpower. However, we still continue to remain in the 1990s in our minds and concepts. Therefore, the US remains on top of its game. This is not merely due to our stupidity but also due to their talent. The US remains a global superpower by being on top of its game. It is sufficient for Sri Lanka to at least learn the ropes of doing this.

- Ravindu Fernando