The World-System of Vaccine Distribution

Global Inequalities and Geopolitical Conflicts During the COVID-19 Pandemic




China, Vaccine Diplomacy, Vaccine Nationalism, COVAX, Periphery


This article analyzes spatial hierarchies and geopolitical conflicts during the COVID-19 pandemic from a world-systems perspective. Drawing on data on global vaccine production and distribution, we argue that the trimodal structure of the capitalist world-system—core, semi-periphery, and periphery—has been reproduced through unequal access to vaccines, constituting hierarchically structured “vaccine worlds”. These vaccine worlds are geopolitically contested, as Chinese companies compete with American and European corporations for influence and markets. Against this background, we outline the Chinese state-led vaccine internationalization strategy with its focus on the global South, and discuss its achievements and contradictions.

Author Biographies

Philipp Köncke, University of Erfurt

Philipp Köncke is a doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Economics, Law, and Social Sciences at University of Erfurt (Germany). His current research focuses on state-market relations in China and on internationalization strategies of Chinese companies expanding into Europe.

Stefan Schmalz, University of Erfurt

Stefan Schmalz is head of the Heisenberg research group “Sociology of Globalization” at the Faculty of Economics, Law, and Social Sciences at University of Erfurt (Germany). He has published in journals such as Development and Change and Globalizations. His research areas include international political economy, development, and global labor studies.


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How to Cite

Köncke, P., & Schmalz, S. (2024). The World-System of Vaccine Distribution: Global Inequalities and Geopolitical Conflicts During the COVID-19 Pandemic . Journal of World-Systems Research, 30(1), 195–222.

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