By Carly Sauvageau
With COVID-19 throwing the world into a place of uncertainty and instability, the hope of a vaccine that has been predicted to be distributed in December of 2020 or early 2021 shows a light at the end of the tunnel. The country that distributes the vaccine in the most effective way could have immense global political influence by the end of the pandemic. However, if a foreign involvement in vaccine distribution goes poorly, it could be a long battle to regain global influence.
“At no time in recent history have we been confronted with a vaccine process that has been possibly influenced by politics,” Robert Ostergard, associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno said.
In a recent article Planning for Military Involvement in an Indo-Pacific Pandemic Vaccination Program, Ostergard and his colleagues explore the United States military involvement in public health crises and situations. They look at how this will affect the plan to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine globally and specifically how it will affect global influence among big political powers. While the Indo-Pacific holds most of the world’s population, it has many frail healthcare systems. Therefore, the United States and other states have been considering plans to ensure the Indo-Pacific and other regions have vaccinations, without doing more harm than good to the Indo-Pacific communities. This is all about gaining soft power.
“It’s a battle for global influence,” Ostergard said about the future of distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. “If the U.S. vaccines are not made widely available, China and Russia will move to develop their vaccines for exports to fill the gap. That will leave the U.S. a loser in the game for influence, while also promoting the foreign policy objectives of Russia and China for greater global influence beyond just military might. This is how soft power works.”
Ostergard said vaccines are potential game changers, but there is definite risk in foreign involvement.
“If the vaccine works without complications and any military assistance goes off without a hitch, then people around the world will benefit,” Ostergard said. “If something goes wrong, we are in for an extremely long, uphill battle that will deepen the politics and mistrust already stewing in the pandemic.”
However, with vaccines still being tested and vaccination being only one tool in getting the pandemic under control, only time will tell what the world will look like in the upcoming months.