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The Politics of Vaccination

The politics of vaccination is unfair. Policies have been set in place to ensure equal and reliable access to COVID-19 vaccines, but they are largely failing. Corruption is at its peak.The COVID-19 vaccine delivery is a shambles, with many of the most vulnerable people left out. There are far too many unique circumstances, conflicting risk factors, and lifestyle risks to decide who should be prioritized.

Antonio Guterres, the UN president, strongly criticized the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines as “wildly unequal and unjust,” noting that only ten countries administered 75% of all vaccinations. Antonio Guterres also said that 130 countries were not administered a single dose of vaccine at the high-level UN Security Council meetings in February.

The uneven distribution of vaccines is indeed politically and epidemiologically self-defying rather than simply a moral outrage. Some countries are vaccinating low-risk, younger people at the expense of health staff, the elderly, and other vulnerable groups in other countries.

Solidarity within the European Union is eroding due to the vaccine fiasco, which experts believe will have long-term consequences for the future of European political integration. Member States are split by the wisdom of the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s vaccine export prohibition. The ban is mostly aimed at the United Kingdom in order to obtain more vaccinations for the EU. However, critics fear it would backfire and tarnish the bloc’s much-touted commitment to free trade and internationalism.

There is also an emerging controversy about whether the vaccines received from this block are equally distributed to the 27 Member States of the EU by the European Commission. In the context of a Summit on Thursday of European Union Presidents and Heads of government, five central European and Baltic nations, led by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kürze, complained of unfair treatment planned to lift their objections more vigorously.

‘Recently, deliveries were not made based on population keys, and this is set to escalate over the next few weeks,’ says a complaint by Kurz and four other national leaders. “This policy directly contradicts the European Union’s political objective — the fair distribution of the doses of vaccine to all the Member States,” the discomfited national leaders said. Should distribution proceed in this way, substantial inequality of care will result – which must be prevented.”

Italy barred 250,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine from being flown to Australia in early March, fulfilling the European Union’s recent threats to crack down on vaccine exports amid a global tug of war over urgently needed shots. The decision by AstraZeneca to suspend the shipment represented a significant increase in the market for vaccines, which has become increasingly frantic as Europe grapples with early signs of a potential new wave of infections triggered by new coronavirus variants.

The Balearic Government refuses to provide the Anti-Corruption Office with a list of IB-Salut Senior Officials and Administration Employees who were reportedly vaccinated prematurely. IB-Salut officials have filed an appeal against Anti-Corruption Office Director Jaime Far’s request for documents, alleging that the information is “highly sensitive” and affects the personal data of approximately 130,000 people. Following a complaint from the opposition party, an investigation was opened to decide if any laws had been broken.The party states that, in addition to breaching the Government’s code of ethics, including misappropriation, have been perpetrated because the vaccines were purchased with public funds.

Two ministers in Peru and one in Argentina have resigned for receiving or giving preferential access to scarce vaccines. Ecuador health minister Juan Carlos Zevallos resigned last month, becoming another Latin American health official forced out as outrage grows over the region’s richest and most powerful ability to obtain vaccinations before the rest of the population. Prosecutors in those countries, and Brazil, are examining thousands of more accusations of irregularities in inoculation drives, most of them involving local politicians and their families cutting in line.

Zimbabwe’s health minister has been detained over suspected wrongdoing in the purchase of Covid-19 medical supplies. During the launch of Covid vaccinations, the country’s chief of epidemiology and disease control was arrested on criminal neglect of duty charges for allegedly paying coworkers illegal “facilitation fees,” using health worker fuel coupons for private vehicles, and recruiting relatives to train health staff.

On March 4, computer security firm Kaspersky announced that a company researcher in Lagos, Nigeria, was selling for up to $1,200 on underground online marketplaces, while vaccine doses were reportedly costing the US government between $4 and $19.50.

After South African police uncovered ampules of counterfeit, unregistered Covid vaccines in December, Interpol released a bulletin warning of  “organized crime threat to COVID-19 vaccines.” Interpol reported in March that Chinese police had apprehended 80 suspects linked to a syndicate selling counterfeit vaccines. “This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Covid-19 vaccine-related crime,” Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock said in a statement on March 3.

According to the US Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission filings, the world is not facing vaccination bribery and corruption for the first time in its history.

AstraZeneca, the manufacturer of Covid vaccines, paid more than $5 million in 2016 in response to an FCPA action alleging that management of subsidiaries in China and Russia set up multiple schemes to offer gifts, travel, cash, and other benefits to healthcare providers in exchange for using the company’s goods. According to the SEC, the Chinese subsidiary even bribed officials to get them to waive government fines. According to the SEC administrative order, the firm did not accept or deny the charges.

Johnson & Johnson charged $70 million in resolutions with the SEC and the Justice Department in 2011 after admitting that its subsidiaries had paid kickbacks enriching Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq in return for lucrative humanitarian aid contracts under the United Nations Oil for Food Program. According to the Justice Department, subsidiaries ran multi-year schemes to bribe officials in Greece, Poland, and Romania in order to sell more medicine in those countries.

Pfizer paid $60 million in 2012 to settle charges that its subsidiaries had paid millions of dollars in bribes to government officials in Bulgaria, Croatia, Kazakhstan, and Russia through sham consultancy contracts, exclusive distributorships, travel gifts, and cash payments. According to the Justice Department, in exchange for receiving approval and registration for its goods, Pfizer received tender awards for providing medicines. In an agreement signed by Pfizer’s attorney, the firm agreed to a Justice Department “statement of truth” outlining illegal payments to public officials. The company’s public statements stressed its cooperation with law enforcement.

Teymur NABILI – Sweden Representative of SASAM

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