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Vaccine Nationalism: No One Is Safe Until Everyone Is Safe

Kathy Roman | Feb 8, 2021

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Kathy Roman | Feb 8, 2021

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

“Vaccine nationalism” — the imbalance that occurs when the world’s wealthiest countries push to be the first to access life-saving virus vaccines — leaves developing countries behind, and hurts everyone.

This “my nation first” approach is not only unethical and inhumane but according to the World Economic Forum, vaccine nationalism will slow the global economic recovery from the pandemic, costing high-income countries $119 billion per year. 

RELATED: Can Global Crisis Lead to Global Unity?

This makes no economic sense because the cost of supplying low-income countries with vaccines is estimated at $25 billion – roughly 1/5th of the annual cost of not doing so.

Vaccine nationalism is nothing new. In 2009, the H1N1 virus, also known as the swine flu, killed approximately 284,000 people worldwide. Within seven months, scientists developed a vaccine, but most high-income countries turned out to be the beneficiaries, leaving poorer nations vulnerable. 

NBC News recently interviewed the leading epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox, Larry Brilliant. He warned, “This is a pandemic. Until everyone in the world is safe, no one is safe. If one country is left unvaccinated, this disease will bounce back and forth.”

Since vaccine nationalism only causes the virus to spread, wouldn’t it be wise for the wealthiest countries to stop hoarding vaccines? For example, Canada has pre-ordered 6 times the amount of vaccine necessary to inoculate every citizen. The United States has purchase options to inoculate every citizen 5 times over, while much of the world is left scrambling. 

This “me first” attitude will inevitably bring suffering to everyone. 

In clear contrast to the selfishness of nationalism, Baha’is see humanity as one family. This approach, according to the Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected global governing body of the world’s Baha’is, represents humanity’s only hope for the future health and prosperity of our planet:

The welfare of any segment of humanity is inextricably bound up with the welfare of the whole. Humanity’s collective life suffers when any one group thinks of its own well-being in isolation from that of its neighbors’ or pursues economic gain without regard for how the natural environment, which provides sustenance for all, is affected. A stubborn obstruction, then, stands in the way of meaningful social progress: time and again, avarice and self-interest prevail at the expense of the common good. 

Being proud of one’s country is a wonderful thing, but if this pride excludes or devalues other nations, it threatens unity and therefore threatens us all. Vaccine nationalism highlights the fact that when one of the members of society suffers, everyone is affected.

Fortunately, a global collaboration to accelerate equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines is now in place. COVAX — a coalition led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI,) the World Health Organization, (WHO,) UNICEF, and others — has dedicated itself to making sure that all countries are equitably supplied with lifesaving coronavirus vaccines and treatment. This forward-thinking worldwide collaboration recognizes that humanity is inextricably connected. 

RELATED: Who Should Get the Vaccine—and When?

The epidemiologists and public health professionals understand that if, as a planet, we do not honor each individual, all will suffer. Both the Bible and Baha’u’llah confirm that scientific reality: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” – Corinthians 12:26. Baha’u’llah wrote: “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.” 

According to the nonprofit research agency RAND Europe, “The cost of the global pandemic will continue to be as high as $1.2 trillion per year and continued disruption to the world economy, through battered supply chains and weaker demand will continue to weigh on all nations.”

Logically, the only sensible way to deal with vaccine distribution is for all nations to coordinate strategies based, not on politics, but on science and compassion. We know that all the major world religions teach us the Golden Rule of: “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” but Baha’u’llah took this commandment a step further when he said: “Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.”

When we fail to follow this wise spiritual counsel, we become entrenched in self-serving nationalism, materialism, and fear. With the myriad of calamities the world now faces, from global warming to racism, poverty, natural disasters, and disease, it is time to recognize and act on our interconnectedness and essential oneness. If we don’t, the decision of any nation to protect or put itself first will inevitably bring about harmful consequences for all humanity.

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  • Zeresh Doula Altork
    Aug 6, 2021
    Although I agree w/your premise that all nations should have equal access to healthcare, I think as Baha'is we must tread carefully when it comes to vaccines. 2 of the shots developed have been done using aborted fetal tissue. As a Baha'i I am not ok with injecting fetal cells into my body. There are many Baha'is that feel this way, for this and many other reasons. I understand that the articles on this site are from a personal perspective and reflect personal opinion, but the subject of vaccination is becoming a topic of discord, causing division, which as Baha'is ...we should prevent. It is especially disheartening to see attacks by fellow Baha'is on those who believe they can be harmful W/Baha'i love
    • Bill McAdams
      Aug 26, 2021
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