A Promised Land: Go Global
To fight Covid, there’s no alternative.
As vaccinations bring the first flicker of light at the end of the Covid tunnel, the emergence of more transmissible and somewhat vaccine-resistant variants seem to stand in the way.
But there’s a path forward. In fact, as a matter of both principle and self-preservation, it’s the only path: Go global. Get the whole world vaccinated much more quickly than currently planned.
Going global is vital because, as explained in a recent Washington Post article, “A [coronavirus] mutation in any location [on the planet] will likely spread everywhere.” Inoculations in America will buy valuable time. But until we control Covid via worldwide vaccinations, we may have to keep striving to stay one step ahead of such mutations.
Drawing in part on a fine Foreign Affairs article decrying “vaccine nationalism,” a Fareed Zakaria op-ed accordingly makes a case for a massive international effort to inoculate the entire world as soon as possible. Among his primary points:
“[O]ur current trajectory [which features a much faster vaccine roll-out for richer nations than the rest of the world] virtually guarantees that we will never really defeat the coronavirus. It will stay alive and keep mutating and surging across the globe.”
“The basic problem is in how the vaccine is being distributed around the world — not based on where there is the most need, but the most money…Rich countries make up 16 percent of the world’s population, yet they have locked up 60 percent of the world’s vaccine supply.”
“Duke University researchers say [that at the currently planned vaccination rate] many developing countries will not be fully vaccinated until 2024, which means the virus will have years to spread and mutate. In their annual letter, Bill and Melinda Gates note that low- and middle-income countries will be able to vaccinate only 1 out of every 5 people by the end of 2021.”
“The International Chamber of Commerce has released a study showing that this lopsided vaccination of the world will cause global economic losses of $1.5 trillion to $9.2 trillion, of which half could be borne by the richest countries…Another study estimates that for every dollar rich countries invest in vaccines for the developing world, they would get back about $5 in economic output.”
“Bollyky and Bown lay out an excellent plan in Foreign Affairs. They argue that the United States should use the lessons from Operation Warp Speed to ramp up production and distribution of the vaccine worldwide…There is now a global vaccination effort to help developing countries, COVAX, which provides a powerful framework for action. President Donald Trump refused to join this effort [surprise, surprise] despite the participation of over 180 nations, but President Biden has reversed that decision.”
Biden can and probably will do more. The question is whether he, other world leaders and pharmaceutical firms will commit to doing much, much more, by bolstering vaccine production and distribution to inoculate the entire planet well before 2024.
A key step would be to persuade or compel such firms to convert existing facilities into plants that manufacture Covid vaccines or other supplies crucial to the inoculation efforts. There’s already a precedent for this: A French firm, Sanofi, is making a Frankfurt pharmaceutical plant available to increase production of Pfizer’s vaccine.
Where persuasion or shared profit-making prove insufficient incentives for drug makers to boost production via factory conversion, Biden could invoke the Defense Production Act to force them to do so. His staff was reportedly considering that option during the transition period and is continuing those deliberations now.
Neither Gleeful Nor Glum
Word of the potentially more dangerous South African variant, and of other new strains, might make us wonder whether we can get a handle on the pandemic’s spread in America, much less the rest of the world. This is indeed cause for concern, putting us in a “race to vaccinate” in order to limit the spreads of such strains. The recent decisions of California and other states to start opening up again could prove premature, to put it mildly.
But there’s good news. With research findings indicating the Johnson & Johnson vaccine protects against Covid – albeit not quite as well as the Pfizer and Moderna drugs or as well against the South African variant as it does against other strains – the potential for ramped-up supplies to reach all of the world just became much more realizable.
For one thing, unlike those other two companies’ products, the J&J vaccine requires only one dose. It also differs in that it need not be stored at ultra-low temperatures, a crucial consideration for much of the world. Finally, even at lesser overall efficacy, it still seems very effective at preventing severe illness and extremely effective at preventing death.
There are yet more reasons to be, if not gleeful, then not entirely glum regarding prospects for protecting both America and the world. More vaccines are already available to various degrees abroad, or are on the way. And the technology utilized for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is such that they can be adapted to fight virus variants in about six weeks (though regulatory and manufacturing hurdles can add time to their becoming widely available).
To be clear, ongoing vigilance and extra precautions against the new variants are well warranted. More people, perhaps many more, may die because of those mutations. My main point here is that we should not give up on helping the rest of the world, regardless of what happens here in coming months. In fact, a turn for the worse here is all the more reason to go global.
Principle and Self-preservation
A case for aiding the entire human race does not only boil down to humanitarian principle – though saving millions of lives sounds pretty persuasive to me. Since Covid could remain a looming threat here as long as it surges elsewhere, self-interest and self-preservation might be the better selling points for those Americans (and other nationalities) who insist that “charity begins at home.” (That’s why, regarding another global challenge, Biden often frames fighting climate change in terms of jobs.)
Regardless, the battle against Covid demonstrates that we can’t hide behind the “America First” wall that fortunately lost out in November but still haunts this land. It’s not just Covid and our health, as crucial as they are. To a good degree, our economy, environment and security hinge on how the rest of the world is doing.
As Bill and Melinda Gates put it, “[L]ike it or not, we’re all in this together.”
Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.
To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.