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Vaccine Diplomacy vs Vaccine Hypocrisy

Vaccine Diplomacy vs Vaccine Hypocrisy


Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has already left its mark in history. Some might even think that it has changed the world forever and while we would still argue that nothing ever lasts forever, we can agree that it introduced a whole collection of novelties – most of the time unpleasant, but necessary, nonetheless. Even our everyday vocabulary has changed, dominated by words and expressions that we would never think of using so often just a couple of years ago: “lockdown”, “social distancing”, and many others. In this “Alternative Viewpoint” entry, we would like to focus on just one expression from this COVID-19 “newspeak” – vaccine diplomacy.

The term was introduced by the Western mainstream media in 2020, when the very first anti-COVID-19 vaccines emerged. In the majority of cases, “vaccine diplomacy’ means using the factor of vaccine availability by a country which develops a vaccine to gain certain political advantages while dealing with the countries which do not have their own vaccines. Against this background, one might come to think that “vaccine diplomacy” is some sort of political blackmail. In reality though, agreements to purchase the vaccines are no different from the agreements on buying any other goods. Yet there is a whole special term for them – “vaccine diplomacy”. Why? We believe that this term is a reflection of a certain mentality that tends to politicize any global issue and see it as a field of competition and to act in such a way to win that competition whatever it takes. Worldwide vaccine roll-out, unfortunately, did not become an exception.

Have you ever noticed that “vaccine diplomacy” is supposed to be a collective term that is applicable to all the vaccine developing countries, yet “somehow”, only Russia and China are actually (according to Western media outlets) resorting to it? The Western media are trying to convince its readers, viewers and listeners that Russia is using its vaccines to gain some sort of advantages and benefits from other, “naïve and helpless”, countries which believe that Russian vaccines would allow to save some of their citizens lives. What those media are doing is attempting to represent Russian vaccines, Sputnik V in particular, as Russia’s “instrument of soft power” designed solely to spread political influence across the globe. Just look at these headlines: “Germany, Russia and the Sputnik V vaccine — a tale of soft power” (Deutsche Welle), “Sputnik V — the Covid vaccine that spreads influence and dismay” (The Times), “Vaccine diplomacy: Putin seeks to leverage Sputnik V to build Russia’s global influence” (Associated Press), “Is Russia’s Covid vaccine anything more than a political weapon?” (The Guardian). Sometimes even top Western officials pitch in to add their voice to this chorus. One of the prominent examples – US President Joseph Biden, who said this while announcing his plan to donate extra US-approved vaccines to other countries: “Russia and China…have donated 15 million doses. You know there’s a lot to talk about Russia and China influencing the world with vaccines. We want to lead the world with our values” (“Biden: US to Share More Coronavirus Vaccine Supply Than Russia, China” (US News)). All this against the background that US once hijacked an aircraft caring PPE - “US hijacking mask shipments in rush for coronavirus protection” (The Guardian)! Besides, if we got Mr.Biden right, this initiative is not exactly about saving people’s lives. Yet again, it’s about “leading the world” and preventing the US from falling behind Russia and China in the so-called “vaccine race”. If you thought that Washington suddenly felt like caring about other countries well-being, you thought wrong.

By the way, all this pop up in the Western newspapers amid constant accusations against Moscow for spreading “disinformation” about the Western vaccines and trying to “tarnish” their reputation. Hypocrisy as it is. There are no such attempts in the Russian media. Could you, uncertain distinguished Western propagandist, give us just one example of RT “tarnishing” the bright image of a Western vaccine? Moreover, Russian officials never said anything of the kind either. On the contrary, as Russian President Vladimir Putin said during the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) Summit in November 2020: “We are ready to cooperate [in the area of vaccine development] and we propose not to politicize this process, proceeding from the fact that people all over the world need this kind of medicine. We are ready to cooperate with all the countries of the world”.

All the abovementioned serve one goal – to paint a picture of Russia and other non-Western countries developing the COVID-19 vaccines to “spread political influence” and the West doing the exact same thing but to “save people’s lives” and “protect them from a deadly virus”. That is what we would call “vaccine hypocrisy”. We are coining a new term here. Russia is ready to cooperate internationally on the issues of vaccine development. President Vladimir Putin said back in November 2020, just four days after the SCO Summit: “Russia has developed and is already using the world's first vaccine against coronavirus, Sputnik V, and the second EpiVacCorona has also been registered. Now the most important thing is to ensure mass production in Russia and start a public vaccination campaign. Our third vaccine is also almost ready. We are ready to share our experience with all interested states and international agencies. Together with a number of our foreign partners, we are working out the issues of launching the production of these vaccines locally at our partners’ production base”. In 2021, Russia’s position remains the same. To quote President Putin again: “Russia is the only country that is sharing its vaccine production technology”. At the same time, he has repeated on numerous occasions: “Russia does not impose anything on anyone”. Yet it seems that the Western media keep “forgetting” about it. You know what they also “forget” about? Setbacks of the Western vaccines. Have a look at this headline of Reuters – the article was published on 12 June: “U.S. FDA asks J&J to discard millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses”. One of the article’s paragraphs reads: “Separately, Europe's drug regulator said on Friday that batches of J&J COVID-19 vaccine made for the region around the time the contamination issues were revealed at the Baltimore plant would, as a precaution, not be used”. Contamination issues. Yet the very first line of the article says: “The U.S. Food & Drug Administration on Friday said Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) must throw away millions of doses of its COVID-19 vaccine that were manufactured at a problem-plagued Baltimore factory but also cleared millions for use”. In translation to English this means “Yes, there are some contaminated, troublesome batches of J&J vaccine, but there are still plenty of good ones! Don’t worry, don’t panic, everything is under control”. So? Has the Western media expressed any concern over the matter? Does anyone discuss it? No. Every mainstream Western media pretends that nothing has happened. Now imagine the same scenario but with Sputnik V instead of J&J. There would be dozens, hundreds of articles, comments, opinion pieces, reports and so on. The West would use its media machine to tell the world that Sputnik V is dangerous.  

In reality though Sputnik V is authorized in 67 countries and each of them took this decision on its own with no political pressure, no threats and no preconditions aside from observation of approval procedures by relevant authorities of a receiving country. At the moment, there is the fourth Russian vaccine against coronavirus in development and Russia’s Federal Medical and Biological Agency is working on a next-generation vaccine which gives immunity against coronavirus on the cellular level.

We also took note that one of the Western media’s favourite “arguments” against Sputnik V, its alleged low efficiency and lack of testing, is gradually dying out giving more place for infamous “Russian vaccine equals soft power weapon” mantra.

But why does the West is so vehemently trying to tarnish Sputnik V? We believe there are two major reasons for that. Firstly, some of the Western countries (the US in particular) see Russia as their geopolitical rival and thus try to isolate our country from the rest of the world and halt its development by any means at hand. Secondly, Sputnik V’s very existence, as well as that of other Russian vaccines, demolishes a myth, which the Western propaganda machine has been constructing for decades – nothing good or of high quality or technologically advanced can be produced in Russia. Everything Russia produces is “bad” and “retarded” by definition, just because Russia does it. According to this myth, Russia is a poor, ruined, authoritarian state on a brink of collapse, so it is impossible for Russia to create anything so advanced as an anti-COVID vaccine, let alone doing that more promptly than the West. Only a “democratic” state could have such an achievement, because only a “democracy” (which means Western-type liberal democracy in this context) is progressive. Sputnik V washes this myth away like Sun vanquishes the puddles as it reappears after the rain. Russia from the real world appeared to be nothing like Russia from the abovementioned myth. Locked in this paradigm of thinking, the West cannot acknowledge Russia’s successes or achievements of any kind, both retrospectively or in the future.

So, in conclusion, “vaccine diplomacy” is just another media tool to politicize the issue of vaccine development and distribution and another example of how the West tried to represent itself as the “universal good” while trying to impose the role of “universal evil” on Russia. There’s not much diplomacy involved in “vaccine diplomacy”, from our viewpoint. “Vaccine hypocrisy” is more like it.

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