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Hard foundations for modest hope about win-win global pandemic cooperation: New research by VELNET members

Since pandemics such as COVID-19 do not stop at national borders, richer countries might benefit from helping poorer countries in fighting them. For instance, when new variants of a virus emerge in vaccine-poor countries, it may sometimes be in the interest of vaccine-rich countries to donate their surplus vaccines, rather than stocking them domestically. But when will this be the case?
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Pieter Vanhuysse and an interdisciplinary team from Germany and Israel developed a ‘Rich-to-Poor Vaccine Donation Game’ to answer this strategic question that is key to global health. They show that if vaccine-rich countries can jointly vaccinate a sufficiently large share of the vaccine-poor world, it is actually the best course of action from their own viewpoint to donate all of their surplus vaccines, irrespective of how likely it is that new variants of the virus will occur later. Even if vaccine-rich countries cannot reach this high poor-world coverage, donating some of their surplus vaccines is still the best course of action in a specific set of circumstances regarding new variants and the cost of future outbreaks.


These results offer both modest hope and hard foundations for win-win global pandemic cooperation. They show that a narrow corridor of conditions exists under which strict self-interest alone, without recourse to other motivations such as ‘international solidarity’ or ‘vaccine diplomacy’, will make vaccine-rich countries help the vaccine-poor world in fighting global pandemics.


Reference: Lampert, Adam, Raanan Sulitzeanu-Kenan, Pieter Vanhuysse, and Markus Tepe. 2022. “A Game Theoretic Approach Identifies Conditions That Foster Vaccine-Rich to Vaccine-Poor Country Donation of Surplus Vaccines.” Communications Medicine 2 (1): 107.