Dr Samantha Vanderslott
University Research Lecturer
Dr Kate Emary
Clinical Research Fellow
Much of the discussion on ‘vaccine nationalism’ has been focussed on the vaccine supply ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, but the voices of public opinion have been more limited. To understand this better, we surveyed and interviewed participants in the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine trial.
Trial participants favoured a COVID-19 vaccine allocated according to need worldwide. Despite national pride in the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, participants did not think this outweighed their desire for the global greater good. The participants were proud of the UK’s achievement but also believed the vaccine should be a shared global good and wanted to end the pandemic globally. They spoke about helping the most vulnerable and where need was the greatest.
We need to internationalise COVID-19 vaccines and get them to the places and people that need them most.
The importance of vaccines for all
Our study showed that participants felt conflicted about how the resulting successful vaccine would be used. The participants spoke very strongly about their hopes that they were doing their part for the most vulnerable across the world, not just the UK. A smaller number hoped that the UK would receive the vaccine first, often due to the use of taxpayer money, local facilities and talent, admitting that they just wanted their lives to go back to normal. However, this did not mean the lives of others elsewhere in the world felt less important to them.
“I think it should just go to globally whoever is going to benefit from it the most… I think it should be key workers around the world, the people that need it the most around the world,” said one participant.
Another agreed: “The idealist bit of me would just want a global approach to [the vaccine rollout] really, because that’s the only way we’re going to solve [the pandemic] properly.”
Public support for equitable access
Public support is key to ensuring that global equitable vaccine access is achieved. We have shown that the support is there if governments and the pharmaceutical industry are willing to listen. Initiatives like COVAX and the G7’s pledge of 1 billion vaccine doses for poorer countries reflect the ambitions we have seen from participants and the public statements of those involved in vaccine development.
We need to internationalise COVID-19 vaccines and get them to the places and people that need them most. However, the reality is that the outcomes in practice are still falling far short of the vision. More than 95% of people in low-income countries are yet to receive their first dose meanwhile, some high-income nations are offering ‘booster shots’ to the fully vaccinated.