COVID-19 Vaccine Donations-Vaccine Empathy or Vaccine Diplomacy? A Narrative Literature Review

Zhaohui Su, Dean McDonnell, Xiaoshan Li, Bindi Bennett, Sabina Šegalo, Jaffar Abbas, Ali Cheshmehzangi, Yu-Tao Xiang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)
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Introduction: Vaccine inequality inflames the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensuring equitable immunization, vaccine empathy is needed to boost vaccine donations among capable countries. However, damaging narratives built around vaccine donations such as "vaccine diplomacy" could undermine nations' willingness to donate their vaccines, which, in turn, further exacerbate global vaccine inequality. However, while discussions on vaccine diplomacy are on the rise, there is limited research related to vaccine diplomacy, especially in terms of its characteristics and effects on vaccine distribution vis-à-vis vaccine empathy. Thus, to bridge the research gap, this study aims to examine the defining attributes of vaccine diplomacy and its potential effects on COVID-19 immunization, particularly in light of vaccine empathy. Methods: A narrative review was conducted to shed light on vaccine diplomacy's defining attributes and effects in the context of COVID-19 vaccine distribution and dissemination. Databases such as PubMed and Medline were utilized for literature search. Additionally, to ensure up-to-date insights are included in the review, validated reports and reverse tracing of eligible articles' reference lists in Google Scholar have also been conducted to locate relevant records. Results: Vaccine empathy is an individual or a nation's capability to sympathize with other individuals or nations' vaccine wants and needs, whereas vaccine diplomacy is a nation's vaccine efforts that aim to build mutually beneficial relationships with other nations ultimately. Our findings show that while both vaccine empathy and vaccine diplomacy have their strengths and weaknesses, they all have great potential to improve vaccine equality, particularly amid fast-developing and ever-evolving global health crises such as COVID-19. Furthermore, analyses show that, compared to vaccine empathy, vaccine diplomacy might be a more sustainable solution to improve vaccine donations mainly because of its deeper and stronger roots in multilateral collaboration and cooperation. Conclusion: Similar to penicillin, automated external defibrillators, or safety belts amid a roaring global health disaster, COVID-19 vaccines are, essentially, life-saving consumer health products that should be available to those who need them. Though man-made and complicated, vaccine inequality is nonetheless a solvable issue-gaps in vaccine distribution and dissemination can be effectively addressed by timely vaccine donations. Overall, our study underscores the instrumental and indispensable role of vaccine diplomacy in addressing the vaccine inequality issue amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its potentials for making even greater contributions in forging global solidarity amid international health emergencies. Future research could investigate approaches that could further inspire and improve vaccine donations among capable nations at a global scale to advance vaccine equity further.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1024
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2021
Externally publishedYes


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