Prime News Ghana

Opinion: '$19 Sputnik V expensive but remains our only option' by Elvis Darko

By Elvis Darko
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Vaccine diplomacy is a touchy subject. 

While countries — much like pharmaceutical companies — would undoubtedly like to reap the soft power benefits of helping other nations end the pandemic, admitting as much defies the purpose.

There was always a political component to the race for the COVID-19 vaccine.

China, which has so far manufactured about 181 million doses, the most in the world, has donated vaccines to 53 nations.

China had shipped 115 million doses worldwide while the EU had exported 58 million by the end of March.

 Russia follows, with bilateral agreements to donate and export its Sputnik V vaccine to 37 countries.

U.S.-China competition may be heating up on another front: COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy.

China has been a major COVID-19 vaccine supplier to much of the developing world, an effort that some experts said could bolster Beijing’s global influence and deepen its ties with other nations.

Russia was the first to explicitly frame the matter of vaccine production as a race—it isn’t a coincidence that it named its vaccine after the satellite that beat the US in the space race.

When Sputnik V was rolled out in Moscow, officials focused on how the country beat others to develop the vaccine.

So far, China and Russia are the only countries where state-owned and funded research institutions discovered COVID-19 vaccines currently in use.

Therefore, if these two countries have made donations to countries excluding Ghana, the message is that they do not see themselves as having any meaningful relations with Ghana.

Western countries, having realised what they stand to lose a lot in diplomacy, contributed huge sums to buy COVID-19 vaccines for poorer countries, including Ghana, under the COVAX arrangement to counter China and Russia’s vaccine diplomacy.

These Western countries that have pre-ordered virtually all the doses from the other companies had to relinquish part of their orders for COVAX to send to poorer countries.

Ghana buying Russia’s Sputnik V from a third party which is a company owned by a powerful person is a clear indication that China and Russia will prefer to deal with third parties instead of dealing directly with countries such as Ghana.

This development suggests that China and Russia do not deem Ghana as a country they are getting their expected benefits from.

Per the COVAX arrangement, Ghana should have received all 2.4 million doses by now. 

However, the country has so far received 950,000 doses.

The Serum Institute of Indian is the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world and it is the company producing the AstraZeneca vaccine supplied Ghana.

However, the COVID-19 apocalypse in India resulted in that country banning the export of all COVID-19 vaccines.

No one knows when India will lift the ban on exports to pave way for Ghana to receive the remaining 1.5 million doses under the COVAX arrangement.

One of the easiest ways to access vaccines is to permit trials in your country. 

On this front too, Ghana is on the losing side because it did not permit any of the institutions that discovered vaccines to conduct trials in the country for fear of public uproar that citizens will be used as guinea pigs.

Don’t forget richer countries have virtually bought all the COVID-19 vaccines to be produced for the year by pre-ordering and therefore there is little hope of Ghana buying from those companies.

Since we have also failed to get vaccines from China and Russia under diplomatic relations and these countries prefer to deal with third parties, the only option left for Ghana is to buy from these third parties.

Yes, $19 per dose of Sputnik V which is sold for $10 is expensive.

But it remains the best hope of getting the vaccine for Ghanaians in the shortest possible time.

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The author is the Editor of The Finder newspaper