Vaccine Nationalism Threatens Politicized Decisions to Fight a Global Pandemic
Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recently cautioned that if governments stifle the flow of vaccines around the world in order to favor their own constituents, COVID-19 will continue to infect unprotected populations at enormous cost in lives and wealth. That comes as experts warn of the dangers of “vaccine nationalism” and as the nationalistic Trump administration is poised to be replaced by an even more top-down Biden administration that threatens government control of medications and other health care supplies.
Gates has a personal stake in the vaccine issue; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is helping to fund the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which seeks to widely distribute two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine once likely candidates become available. To that end, the Gates Foundation recently donated $70 million on top of earlier commitments to develop and distribute COVID-19 treatments.
“Those two billion doses … If for instance, they only went to high-income countries, we would have twice as much death around the world,” Melinda Gates told France 24.
Why would the vaccine only be available to people in some countries and not others?
“Experience from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that in responding to such events, national governments tend to follow their own interests instead of pursuing a more globally coordinated approach,” points out the RAND Corporation in an October report. “A situation where countries push to get first access to a supply of vaccines and potentially hoard key inputs for vaccine production has been commonly referred to as ‘vaccine nationalism’.”
An example of a nationalistic endeavor is Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s program “for delivering a safe and effective product to Americans as quickly and reliably as possible” through a public-private joint endeavor. Such government-led, single-nation efforts could crowd out private research while developing vaccines that would stop at national borders.
“In their quest to obtain vaccines, countries without access to the initial stock will search for any form of leverage they can find, including bloc
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