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BackgroundVaccine nationalism has become a key topic of discussion during the development, testing, and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. Media attention has highlighted the ways that global, coordinated access to vaccines has been limited during the pandemic. It has also exposed how some countries have secured vaccine supply, through bilateral purchase agreements and the way pharmaceutical companies have priced, negotiated, and delivered these supplies. Much of the focus of this debate has been on the vaccine supply ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, but the voices of public opinion have been more limited.MethodsWe explore the concepts of vaccine nationalism and internationalism from the perspective of vaccine trial participants, using an empirical perspectives study that involved interviews with phase I/II COVID-19 vaccine trial participants in Oxford, UK. We surveyed and interviewed participants between September and October 2020 about their views, motivations and experiences in taking part in the trial.ResultsFirst, we show how trial participants describe national and international ideas about vaccination as intertwined and challenge claims that these positions are mutually exclusive or oppositional. Second, we analyse these viewpoints further to show that vaccine nationalism is closely connected with national pride and metaphors of a country’s scientific achievements. Participants held a global outlook and were highly supportive of the prioritisation of vaccines by global need, but many were also pessimistic that such a solution could be possible.ConclusionTrial participants constitute an informed public group, with situated public expertise that the global community could draw on as an expert opinion. We argue that vaccine nationalism is strongly attached to national character and, therefore, it is more difficult for ownership of a vaccine to be thought of as international.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Global Health



Publication Date





e006305 - e006305