There are promising vaccine candidates in the US, but if none of them wind up being viable, Trump’s decision to forgo the Covax effort will leave America and its 330 million people without a vaccine.
The Trump administration has refused to join an international effort to develop, produce, and fairly distribute a coronavirus vaccine due to the involvement of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
More than 170 countries, including American allies in Europe, are in talks to participate in the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) Facility, which is hoping to accelerate vaccine development, obtain doses for all nations involved, and distribute them to the most vulnerable populations.
The plan, which is being spearheaded by the WHO, the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi, the vaccine alliance, had some supporters within the administration, but they were ultimately overruled because the White House does not want to work with the WHO, according to the Post.
“The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China,” Judd Deere, a spokesman for the White House, told the Post.
The refusal to participate in Covax underscores the administration’s belief that the US can develop a vaccine on its own and does not need any back-up or assistance, even as every prior step of the federal government’s record pandemic response has received intense criticism from public health experts. The Trump administration has previously failed to roll out widespread COVID-19 testing; failed to provide sufficient personal protective equipment for medical workers; ignored public health experts’ advice on lifting social distancing restrictions too early; and long refused to encourage the widespread wearing of masks.
As a result, more than 6 million people in the US have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and nearly 185,000 have died.
Rather than admit any responsibility for the nation’s failures, President Donald Trump has repeatedly accused the WHO of protecting China as the pandemic spread across the world. In July, he declared that the US would withdraw from the organization, a decision widely panned by public health experts, Democrats, and even some Republicans.
The administration’s vaccine announcement was met with similar criticism.
Epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding called it an “absolutely terrible” and “insane” decision that “will hurt us in the long run,” and was comparable to “shooting ourselves in the foot.” He added that “turning down an insurance policy during a pandemic is nonsensical and madness.”
Virologist Angela Rasmussen tweeted that “‘America First’ doesn’t apply to pandemics. Viruses don’t observe national borders. If anyone is at risk, we all are. Refusing to cooperate with other countries on vaccines will kill people.”
The consequences of Trump’s approach could be staggering. The US is currently trying to develop and manufacture a widespread vaccine by January through its Operation Warp Speed project. There are promising vaccine candidates, but if none of them wind up being viable, Trump’s decision to forgo the Covax effort will leave the US and its 330 million people without a vaccine.
Even if US vaccine efforts do pan out, going it alone could mean the country hoards its doses, vaccinating most Americans while leaving other countries to fend for themselves—which is exactly what the Covax project is seeking to prevent.
“When the U.S. says it is not going to participate in any sort of multilateral effort to secure vaccines, it’s a real blow,” Suerie Moon, co-director of the Global Health Center at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, told the Post. “The behavior of countries when it comes to vaccines in this pandemic will have political repercussions beyond public health…It’s about: Are you a reliable partner, or, at the end of the day, are you going to keep all your toys for yourself?”
If the US does hoard an effective vaccine, it presents two problems, according to health experts. First, a new vaccine is unlikely to offer complete protection to everyone, meaning a percentage of the US population will still be vulnerable to cases from abroad once international travel, tourism, and trade and tourism resume.
The second issue is that the globalized nature of the economy means that an economic rebound in the US is contingent on similar recoveries around the world. If the US is vaccinated but other countries are trailing behind and are still maintaining restrictions, it will hinder any recovery at home.
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“We will continue to suffer the economic consequences — lost US jobs — if the pandemic rages unabated in allies and trading partners,” Thomas J. Bollyky, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the director of its global health program, told the Post.
These consequences are not lost on WHO director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who in August warned against any sort of “vaccine nationalism.”
“No one is safe until everyone is safe. No one country has access to research and development, manufacturing and all the supply chain for all essential medicines and materials,” Dr. Ghebreyesus said. “We need to prevent vaccine nationalism.”
Those warnings apparently fell on deaf ears in the White House.