Minju Jung - The Determinants of Policy Decisions in GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.

Picture of a hand in a blue glove holding up a small vaccine sample in a glass bottle

About my PhD

What factors influence decisions made within GAVI about the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines?

My PhD project delves into the policy decisions that Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) makes in relation to its involvement in global efforts to ensure the development, procurement, and fair global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. GAVI is a public-private partnership organisation, created in 2000 to improve global vaccine access, especially in developing countries. In 2020, it took on a new role in relation to COVID-19 vaccines.

In line with the fact that nobody can be safe until everyone is safe, the fair and equal allocation of COVID-19 vaccines has become a critical global political issue. GAVI is co-leading the COVAX project, which is intended to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, in particular for people those most in need, living in both rich and poor countries. regardless of their affordability. In conjunction with the WHO, GAVI is coordinating the development and implementation of COVAX’s vaccine distribution programs. 

Given GAVI’s important role in COVAX, my PhD project explores the political dynamics of decision-making in the GAVI Board, where a wide range of public and private stakeholders with different ideas and interests work together. This study aims to understand how decisions regarding the operation of COVAX and equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines are made in discussions where different ideas and interests compete with one another.

What made me interested in this topic

I have always had a keen interest in the impacts of non-traditional security issues on foreign affairs and peoples’ lives, and in understanding them in a way that the arguments of traditional power politics cannot explain. Along with this, there were two events that influenced me to begin to have an academic focus on global health politics, which further led to global health governance: the widespread public fear over ‘mad cow disease’ in Korea in 2008, and the 2015 Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus outbreak in Korea. These events enabled me to recognise the political aspects of public health issues and the influence of a disease on foreign affairs. In particular, the latter event inspired me to understand the impact of disease on people’s lives and the importance of global health governance (GHG) in global efforts to respond to outbreaks.

What’s new about this work

Although existing studies on GHG have made a significant contribution to our understandings of global responses to important global health events (such as major disease outbreaks and the creation of global health institutions such as GAVI), it has not yet discussed how global health policies are made in actual policy discussions. In addition, we do not know exactly why GHG policy actors have different perceptions on particular policy questions, and how conflicting ideas and perceived interests influence policy-making within global health institutions (i.e. the internal policymaking mechanism of global health institutions).

To fill this research gap, we need to investigate the policy decisions of global health institutions to know what factors influence those policy decisions, which might lead to changes in the missions of the institution. My project sheds light on internal policy-making mechanisms (rather than the big picture of the GHG system) of global health institutions. It is important to investigate actual decision making processes, because a wide range of GHG policy actors with different ideas, interests and authorities, interact and compete with one another in global health institutions such as GAVI, to influence policy decisions.

What impact my research could have

This study would make three contributions to the field of global health governance. First, it will provide an in-depth empirical case study of how global health policies are created in practice in policy discussions within one of the most important institutions of GHG. Second, using process tracing, it will provide thick descriptions of what factors determined particular policy decisions in the GAVI board and, in particular, whose ideas were important and how different policy actors’ identities and interests (and their perceptions of the identities and interests of others) influenced decisions in those cases. Third, this study will shed light on how GAVI’s policy actors use different forms of authority dispersed in GAVI to exert their influence on decision-making processes.

What’s most interesting to me about my work

What makes it most interesting, I think, is that it provides an actual empirical case study of decision-making process within one of the most important global health international organisations. This study traces decision-making process in GAVI regarding COVID-19 vaccine distribution within the historic global cooperation to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented global health threat. By doing so, this study explores how GAVI expands the boundary of its work, beyond the tasks that its creators had originally designed it to do. I believe that this timely project’s unique case study makes it intriguing and important.

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