As COVID-19 vaccinations have begun to roll out, developing countries face barriers in obtaining a sufficient amount of vaccines to inoculate their populations. Much of the world, therefore, remains vulnerable to the pandemic as the developing world becomes a breeding ground for new variants, such as those found in South Africa and Brazil. These new variants will eventually produce additional barriers, which I will discuss in this article. An example would be the reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccines, which would consequently pose a threat to the rest of the world and create a draconian state of law where freedom would be jeopardized due to economic discrepancies across borders. Additionally, this may make socioeconomic inequalities more distinct, as developing countries fall behind not just socially, struggling or failing to inoculate their populations, but also economically, being unable to join the Global North in a post-COVID world. This further entrenchment of developing countries into poverty, as they lose their grasp on financial independence-seeking assistance from the Global North, would allow for neocolonialism to be further cemented due to a lack of equitability.
While populations across the Global South remain exposed to the virus with little chance of relief from vaccines, minorities in both the Global South and the Global North may begin to face larger restrictions on their civil liberties. Several countries such as England are considering the use of vaccination passports as a form of documentation to prove inoculation. This means that some groups will be unable to access certain freedoms, including that of movement, whilst those privileged to receive the vaccine can. The denial of equity to The Global South will eventually turn to a denial of basic equality, as vaccination passports fundamentally become ‘freedom passports’ (Merrick, 2021). This is already a reality in countries like Israel that have produced a ‘green pass’ for vaccinated citizens (Riley-Smith, 2021). The majority of Israeli settlers within the West Bank have been vaccinated, whereas Palestinians located in the Gaza Strip have been denied access to vaccines (Alsaafin, 2021). Thus the ‘green pass’ will restrict their freedoms by unjustly sanctioning such discriminatory medical practices.
In addition to groups like the Palestinians who have been denied access to vaccines, analysis of further unvaccinated populations within both the Global South and Global North predominantly shows them to be ethnic minorities. As countries like England continue to vaccinate their elderly population and key frontline workers, it can be seen that black Africans and Caribbeans are the least vaccinated ethnic group with 59-69% of them being vaccinated in comparison to 91% of British whites (Office for National Statistics, 2021). A post-colonial perspective, therefore, highlights how despite the West being prioritised in receiving adequate healthcare, minorities within the Global North are much less inoculated compared to the white population. Such inequality is further ubiquitous in the Global South, where minorities suffer from persisting neocolonial restrictions on medical care imposed by the Global North. Developing countries remaining at the bottom of the list in receiving a sufficient number of vaccines would ruin any hopes for a future of socio-economic stability and risk the civil liberties of their citizens.
There are many reasons why minorities in the Global South and the Global North are not getting vaccinated. Vaccination uptake amongst minorities remains low in the Global South because developing countries face financial difficulties in attempting to secure vaccines for their vast populations. The uptake amongst minorities in the Global North has also been low, and it seems to come from them being dissuaded by their perception of risk concerning the vaccines, and from a lack of trust in healthcare services. (Razai et al., 2021)
This may be due to low participation rates of ethnic minorities in vaccination testing trials, wherein only 5% of Moderna’s participants were Asian and 10% of Pfizer’s participants were black (John Hopkins Medicine, 2020). In addition to the scarce representation of minorities in clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccinations, the effectiveness of vaccines seems to vary according to race, where it was found that 0.04% of white clinical trial participants did not show a response to vaccines whilst 10 % of Asian-Americans did not produce ‘cellular immune responses’ (Balfour, 2020). This may result in minorities facing a higher risk of experiencing vaccine incompetency.
Minorities, then, become the key group subjected to restrictions such as that of movement due to lack of vaccinations, and this presages a dystopian, two-tier society, alongside civic unrest, prejudice, and divide resulting from the neocolonialism propagated by the Global North. Lack of accessibility to vaccines will thus cause socioeconomic hurdles which will inevitably dismantle the independence of developing countries, i.e. borders remaining closed. This in turn allows more room for neo-colonialism to be exercised.
Developing countries are increasingly dependent on the Global North to alleviate the socioeconomic outcomes of COVID-19, due to their inability to afford and access vaccines. They must urge wealthy nations to make medical technologies a public good. Underdeveloped nations remain grinded to a halt whilst the Global North continues to heal and head to post-COVID normalcy. This reflects the enduring neocolonial attitudes that the West holds today through their imposition of conditional aid. This is clearly shown by China’s $1 billion loans to Latin America and the Caribbean (Thomas, 2020) so that they may access vaccines despite these areas of the world being mostly insolvent, having been hit hardest by the pandemic. This fundamentally forces developing countries to rely on developed countries for medical provisions, thereby enabling them to impose economic sanctions and loans, as China has, so that their own pharmaceutical companies like Moderna and China’s Sinovac Biotech may profit and prosper.
This reproduction of neocolonialism is the result of Western corporations subjecting the Global South to capitalist structures, as shown through the notion of Marxist dependency theory. The theory explains how enforcing economic sanctions on developing countries cultivates a cultural and economic hegemony, creating economic dependency whilst developed countries make use of the resources and labour found in impoverished countries. This is particularly seen in countries like India and Brazil. While they are denied full accessibility to vaccines, they are used to manufacture vaccines such as Russia’s Sputnik V (Paraguassu, 2021) and Oxford’s AstraZeneca (Kansteiner, 2021). For example, India produces 60% of the world’s vaccines (McGregor, 2021), and yet it will only be able to vaccinate up to 30% of its own population by the end of 2021 (Kanitkar, 2021). This depicts a clear portrayal of neo-colonialism’s tireless grasp on the Global South, as it perpetuates economic hegemony for the Global North.
Western countries reap the rewards of Southern labour whilst contributing to ongoing inequality via the introduction of vaccination passports. Such a reality will ultimately leave the unprivileged with restricted freedoms as they are unable to receive nor prove inoculation. This is mainly due to manufacturing countries being unable to make domestic use of vaccines, for they are instead being produced for countries in the Global North. Western capitalism works in favour of the privileged citizens of developed countries, allowing them to live with zero restrictions on their civil liberties, as the production and distribution of vaccines continuously replicates colonial rule.
This draconian prospect where the privileged have unrestricted freedom whilst the unprivileged don’t, will leave numerous minorities at the bottom of a two-tier society, whereas those at the top are privileged vaccine receivers. This demonstrates that although neocolonialism stands as the last stage of imperialism, such inequality based on inaccessibility to healthcare will result in a society riddled with divide and dissent, resulting from civil liberties being jeopardized.
Such a disparity would diminish the hard-earned effects of decolonization, as poorer countries suffer setbacks, from citizens being unable to receive the same opportunities as those receiving vaccines in richer countries, to less developed countries facing a major delay in re-entering post-COVID society. This becomes a key element to today’s neocolonialism as developing countries are downgraded to the category of underdevelopment. Developing nations will become unavoidably dependent on Western countries, producing and reproducing a cycle of unending neocolonial rule where imperialist practices continue to dilute the influence of other countries, creating a global structure composed of more core than periphery.
In an effort to prevent such a two-tier society, a number of solutions are available, from funding Covax to ensure fair and equitable distribution of vaccines to sharing medical technology by waiving intellectual property rights (Nawrat, 2021), and to building vaccine manufacturing sites in more regional areas so that they are available at lower prices. Considering such solutions would allow for more equitable access to vaccines as is necessary in the global fight against COVID-19.
Furthermore, the exhibitions of neocolonialism during the COVID-19 pandemic will become almost irreversible if they are not prevented now during the consideration of whether to establish vaccination passports. Vaccine passports become meaningless and unfair in a world where access to vaccines is not equitable; in a world where developed countries hoard the world’s vaccines. Thus, vaccine passports need to be reconsidered, not only for the sake of a safe and secure post-COVID world but to ensure that lives and freedoms are not lost due to economic discrepancies which make medical care and access to vaccination a privilege. Access to equitable medical care should be a human right, and we must heed the warnings of Tedros Adhanom (2020) – ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe.’
- Adhanom, T. (2020). 29 November. Available at: https://twitter.com/DrTedros/status/1333124557071323136
- Alsaafin, L. (2021). Palestinians condemn Israel’s move to send vaccines overseas. Aljazeera.com, Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/25/political-cynicism-israel-vaccine-delivery-to-countries-slammed
- Kanitkar, T. (2021). COVID-19 vaccine data analysis: At current rate of 2.2mn doses per day, India can only cover 30% population by end-2021 Firstpost. Available at: https://www.firstpost.com/india/covid-19-vaccine-data-analysis-at-current-rate-of-2-2mn-doses-per-day-india-can-only-cover-30-population-by-end-2021-9562811.html
- Kansteiner, F. (2021). U.K. inspects AstraZeneca vaccine partner’s India manufacturing, setting stage for supply boost. Fierce Pharma, Available at: https://www.fiercepharma.com/manufacturing/serum-institute-india-up-for-british-audit-as-astrazeneca-looks-to-boost-covid-19
- McGregor, G. (2021). The world’s largest vaccine maker can’t keep up with the world’s worst COVID wave. Fortune. Available at:https://fortune.com/2021/04/20/india-covid-cases-vaccine-vaccinations-serum-institute/
- Merrick, R. (2021). ‘Freedom passports’ for vaccinated people would risk ‘two-tier society,’ Information Commissioner warns. Independent, Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/covid-vaccine-passport-coronavirus-b1792752.html
- Nawrat, A., (2021). Exploring the Covid-19 vaccine IP waiver proposal at the WTO. Pharmaceutical Technology, Available at: https://www.pharmaceutical-technology.com/features/wto-ip-waiver-proposal-covid19-vaccine/
- Office for National Statistics (ONS) – Public Health Data Asset, National Immunisation Management Service. (2021). “Vaccination rates of adults aged 70 years or over, by self-reported ethnic group 8 December 2020 to 11 March 2021, England” Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthinequaliti es/bulletins/coronavirusandvaccinationratesinpeopleaged70yearsandoverbysociodemographic characteristicengland/8december2020to11march2021
- Paraguassu, L. (2021). Brazil’s Bolsonaro speaks to Russia’s Putin about Sputnik vaccine. Reuters, Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-russia-idUSKBN2BT2PD
- Razai, M. et al. (2021). Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy among ethnic minority groups. BMJ, pp.1- 2.
- Riley-Smith, B. (2021). Vaccine passports: Covid status checks to become ‘part of our lives’. The Telegraph, Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/04/05/vaccine-passports-scheme-covid-status-certification-app-events/
- Thomas, P. (2021). China makes $1bn loan to Latin American and Caribbean countries for access to coronavirus vaccine. The Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/china-billion-dollar-load-coroanvirus-vaccine-covid-19-mexico-latin-america-caribbean-a9637991.html