Strategic solidarity: Scandinavian countries' COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy

In early 2021, as a global scramble for COVID-19 vaccines unfolded, Nordic leaders maintained that there was no contradiction between protecting their own citizens and helping people everywhere get access to vaccines. In practice, however, Nordic and European success at obtaining vaccines directly contributed to relegating low-income countries to the back of the vaccine queue. By the end of the year, most Scandinavian adults had been boosted with a third dose, while only 8.5% of people in low-income countries had received an injection - a situation that the WHO has dubbed global “vaccine apartheid.” SCANVAX analyses this important tension between national, regional, and international vaccine solidarity directly by focusing on three topics.

Firstly, SCANVAX considers the Nordic COVID-19 vaccine response from 2020 until 2022. It asks what role Nordic, European and global cooperation have played in Norway’s Sweden’s and Denmark’s COVID-19 strategies, and how global health diplomacy on these different scales interlinks. Secondly it asks how each of the three Scandinavian countries has managed the tensions and ethical dilemmas between national health security and international solidarity.

Secondly, SCANVAX analyses current Nordic vaccine preparedness efforts. It asks how Scandinavian countries are building on past cooperation around vaccine access to strengthen Nordic, European and global vaccine preparedness today. It also investigates what role the European Union (EU) sees for the Nordic region in vaccine preparedness overall and in the EU’s new Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) in particular.

Lastly, SCANVAX contributes to academic theory in the fields of security studies and global health governance. It queries whether a specifically Nordic approach to health security or health diplomacy exists. It also asks whether the interplay of international solidarity and vaccine nationalism in Scandinavia can be better understood by developing the concept of “strategic solidarity”, which stresses the interlinked nature of vaccine diplomacy that aims to establish solidarity and equity, and vaccine diplomacy to gain geopolitical advantage or other foreign policy objectives.

In studying the Nordic response to the ongoing pandemic, SCANVAX will help improve pandemic preparedness, aiming to make our collective response to the next dangerous pathogen both more effective and more equitable.