The Vaccine Race: Does Russia and India’s Involvement Present a Challenge to Human Rights?
Cold War reminiscent propaganda, bureaucracy-free heavens and past deaths: this is why the international community needs to start regulating the vaccine race.
As the crippling effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to shape our world, nations have turned to vaccine research as one of the principal means to bring the global havoc it has wreaked to a halt. It is estimated that there are now 90 vaccines in development , all competing to win the race.
The developing nations of India and Russia have arguably, so far, risen to the top of this race, competing against the likes of the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Could this be as a turning point in our understanding of who the leading global forces truly are? However, whilst it’s an interesting twist in the tale of global supremacy rankings, these vaccine efforts present serious potential human rights abuses.
Vladimir Putin effectively declared himself the winner of the vaccine race by announcing the Russian vaccine on live television in August. Putin claimed their vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya National Centre of Epidemiology and Microbiology, had “passed all the needed checks ”.
Many experts in the field refute this, as Russia approved the vaccine with fewer than 80 people being tested and, frighteningly, the third stage of trials only set to commence as the vaccine is being rolled out. This third phase is essential in testing the safety of the vaccine as it can expose more uncommon side effects on a larger sample of volunteers.
The American chemist, Herbert Holden Thorp, warns that “short cuts in testing for vaccine safety and efficacy endanger millions of lives in the short term ”. With the country, by December, aiming to give 10 million doses of the vaccine each month, this presents a serious threat to the well-being of some of the most vulnerable in Russian society as Putin appears to be prepared to use them as part of his trial programme.
The decision taken by the Russian government appears even more reckless as by their own admission, five years ago, they had lower drug safety surveillance standards than those recommended by the World Health Organisation. Rightly Russian healthcare workers are sceptical about the new vaccine, with only 24.5% of those surveyed saying they’d be willing to get vaccinated .
The Russian government is also utilising the vaccine as a geopolitical weapon. The vaccine’s name ‘Sputnik V’ discretely masks this, harking back to the Soviet satellite launched in 1957 beginning the ‘space race’. Befittingly the Russian government has engaged in Cold-War level propaganda to promote their vaccine and denigrate the AstraZeneca British-made vaccine as the “monkey vaccine”. According to a whistleblower in the Russian media campaign , this belligerent propaganda has focused on potential markets for the vaccine such as India and Brazil.
What’s more, the campaign has had some success with 1 billion doses being requested worldwide, potentially putting even more vulnerable people at risk from an inadequately developed vaccine approved by a second-rate health ministry.
Pharmaceutical companies will often off-shore some of their trial stages [for] lower levels of bureaucracy and a poverty-stricken population willing to take part.
India has arguably acted more professionally and has long been labelled the “pharmacy of the world” for its huge drug market, supplying over 50 per cent of global demand for various vaccines . However, their efforts too present potential human rights violations, particularly in the trial period.
Western-ran pharmaceutical companies will often off-shore some of their trial stages to India in order to make use of lower costs and relatively high levels of English language proficiency. A cynic may suggest they are also attracted to lower levels of bureaucracy and a poverty-stricken population willing to take part.
Though the majority of trials have concluded with little controversy, some of India’s poorest members of society have fallen victim to less rigorous trials. Last year the Indian health ministry concluded that over 4 years 88 deaths had come directly as a result of clinical trials.
In our desperation to put an end to this global catastrophe, it is clear that we need to consider the human rights of populations, particularly in developing nations leading the vaccine efforts. We must safeguard the most vulnerable against an infringement of their welfare both in trials and roll outs of vaccines. Otherwise, as a global community, there’s a danger we’ll do more harm than good.