Saturday, July 2, 2022

The Era of Vaccine Diplomacy Is Here

It is only natural that the American government and the American people have focused on getting coronavirus vaccines to as many of its people as possible, with the most vulnerable first in line. But as the pace of domestic vaccination accelerates, two facts are worth bearing in mind.

It is only natural that the American government and the American people have focused on getting coronavirus vaccines to as many of its people as possible, with the most vulnerable first in line. But as the pace of domestic vaccination accelerates, two facts are worth bearing in mind.

One is that the pandemic will not be vanquished anywhere until it is vanquished everywhere. Several known coronavirus variants are making their way around the world, and epidemiologists know more will evolve so long as the virus continues to spread, potentially challenging the efficacy of existing vaccines. South Africa, for example, halted use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine when it showed “disappointing” results against a new, more contagious variant of the virus that has made landfall in the United States.

The second fact is that while more than 45 million Americans, nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of vaccine, and most high-income countries have launched their own vaccination programs, the Think Global Health project of the Council on Foreign Relations estimates that only 7 percent of low-income countries had vaccinated anyone at all as of Feb. 18.

That is a yawning gap. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, has correctly described it as “another brick in the wall of inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots.”

The good news is that the gap is finally being addressed. Last week, a cargo plane landed in Ghana with 600,000 doses of vaccine developed in Britain and manufactured in India, the start of a program to deliver at least 1.3 billion shots to 92 low- and middle-income countries this year through Covax, an international effort backed by the World Health Organization.

The effort has had a rocky start. Under the Trump administration, the United States pulled out of the W.H.O. altogether, and along with other wealthy nations it grabbed what vaccine it could for itself. But the Biden administration has moved quickly to rejoin the W.H.O. and has pledged $4 billion to the global vaccination drive. President Emmanuel Macron of France has further suggested that instead of money, wealthy countries should donate vaccine doses to African governments, sparing Covax the need to compete for existing supplies.

All this is just a start. The 600,000 doses that arrived in Ghana are barely enough to inoculate 1 percent of its population, and Covax will need a lot more money and help.

While conquering the virus is the obvious and primary reason for the United States to pitch in, there is also this: It is very much in America’s national interest not to cede a critical “soft power” advantage to autocratic rivals like Russia or China.


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