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The BRICS’ Lagging Vaccine Diplomacy

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the BRICS countries’ collective strength, and found them largely wanting. The bloc has therefore missed a chance to bolster its advocacy of international governance reform, and cast doubt on its fitness for purpose in responding to critical global challenges.

CAPE TOWN – The BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – collaborate in a number of areas and have emerged as a forceful voice for global governance reform. But with their lukewarm cooperation on COVID-19 vaccines, they have missed an important opportunity to demonstrate their ability to mount a strong collective response to a global crisis.

The pandemic has hit the BRICS hard. India has recorded the highest number of infections within the group (and the second most globally, after the United States), with 32.2 million at the time of writing. Brazil has reported 20.3 million cases, Russia 6.6 million, South Africa 2.6 million, and China – where the pandemic originated – fewer than 100,000. Total COVID-19 deaths across the five countries now stand at 1.25 million, with Brazil and India accounting for 80% of these.

This heavy toll – and the fact that the rich countries of the G7 have purchased over one-third of the world’s COVID-19 vaccine supply, despite accounting for only 13% of the global population – should have provided an impetus for stronger cooperation among the BRICS countries. But as the University of the Witwatersrand’s Vishwas Satgar noted recently during a webinar hosted by the BRICS Policy Center, the BRICS “have seen a divergence, inconsistency, and lack of cooperation on COVID-19 vaccination.”

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