Prime Minister Boris Johnson characterized Britain’s exit from the European Union as “recaptured sovereignty.”
These invocations of sovereign power reflect a form of American and British exceptionalism that are echoed in the University of Oxford’s exclusive deal with AstraZeneca to manufacture a potential Covid-19 vaccine developed by the university. The deal prioritizes British and American access to the vaccine following significant financial investments by both governments. While questions have been raised about why two of the wealthiest countries should receive priority access to the vaccine, little attention has been paid to the role of the university in reinforcing what I call “vaccine sovereignty.”
Vaccine sovereignty is consequently not just focused on nationalistic impulses articulated by the state. It also captures how non-state actors, such as pharma companies and universities, reinforce systems of power that place profit before people. Consequently, the call for a “people’s vaccine” signed by a range of global leaders and supported by the Open Society Foundations, which I work for, serves as a form of counter-power to the vaccine sovereignty evident in the Oxford-AstraZeneca deal.
A people’s vaccine seeks to ensure mandatory worldwide sharing of all Covid-19-related knowledge, establish a global and equitable rapid manufacturing and distribution plan fully-funded by wealthy nations, and guarantees that Covid-19 tests, diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines are provided free to everyone, everywhere.