Sovereignty, in its most distilled form, is the power to decide who will live and who must die. Both U.S. and U.K. heads of state have increasingly invoked sovereignty as a dominant discourse in their economic and foreign policies. President Trump used the words “sovereign” or “sovereignty” 21 times in his inaugural address to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2017. More recently, Prime Minister Boris Johnson characterized Britain’s exit from the European Union as “recaptured sovereignty.”

These invocations of sovereign power reflect a form of American and British exceptionalism that are echoed in the University of Oxford’s exclusive deal with AstraZeneca to manufacture a potential Covid-19 vaccine developed by the university. The deal prioritizes British and American access to the vaccine following significant financial investments by both governments. While questions have been raised about why two of the wealthiest countries should receive priority access to the vaccine, little attention has been paid to the role of the university in reinforcing what I call “vaccine sovereignty.”

 

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