COVID-19 and the Global Vaccine Race

Lorenza Errighi
Content Type
Commentary and Analysis
Istituto Affari Internazionali
If 2020 was the year of “mask diplomacy”, as countries raced to tackle the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and acquire the necessary protective gear and equipment, 2021 is likely to be remembered as the year of “vaccine diplomacy”. Growing competition between states to secure the necessary quantities of vaccines to inoculate their population has already become an established feature of the post-COVID international system and such trends are only likely to increase in the near future. It normally takes up to a decade to transition from the development and testing of a vaccine in a laboratory to its large-scale global distribution. Despite current challenges, the speed of COVID-19 vaccination campaigns is unprecedented. To put an end to the current pandemic – which in one year has led to the loss of 2.6 million lives and triggered the worst economic recession since the Second World War – the goal is to ensure the widest immunisation of the world population in a timeframe of 12 to 18 months. In this context, COVID vaccines emerge as instruments of soft power, as they symbolise, on the one hand, scientific and technological supremacy and, on the other, means to support existing and emerging foreign policy partnerships and alliances with relevant geopolitical implications. From their experimentation in laboratories, to their purchase and distribution, the vaccine has emerged as a significant tool for competition between powers, often associated with the promotion of competing developmental and governance models across third countries.
Diplomacy, Health, Vaccine, COVID-19
Political Geography
Global Focus