The president’s “America First” philosophy courts disaster for entire regions of the world, diplomats warn.
WASHINGTON D.C. (Politico) – When global leaders gathered virtually last month at the behest of the World Health Organization to commit to distributing a future coronavirus vaccine in an internationally equitable way, the United States didn’t join in.
As of today, May 4, 2020, the European Union is hosting a gathering for countries to pledge funding for research into vaccines and treatments for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. But once again the U.S. government isn’t expected to participate.
Trump’s administration apparent lack of interest in cooperation has alarmed global health officials and diplomats as they seek to end a pandemic that has disabled economies and killed more than 240,000 people worldwide. The concerns are only deepening as President Donald Trump and his aides squabble with China and the WHO over the origins of the virus.
The fear is that Trump will be content with allowing the race to develop and distribute the vaccine to devolve into a global contest — and that poorer countries will be left behind in the rush to procure doses. In essence: that the president’s “America First” view of world affairs as an archaic scramble for power will lead to unnecessary suffering and death.
The ongoing global scramble for masks, gloves and other personal protective gear offers a harrowing and potentially instructive example. Now imagine, officials and experts say, a similar competition to obtain vaccine doses: It could drag out the health crisis by letting the virus spread for longer than it otherwise might, devastating the very countries least equipped to fight it. There are other risks. For one thing, another country, such as China, might develop a vaccine first and find ways to limit access to Americans.
A European ambassador said he and his colleagues remain “hopeful” that the United States will take the lead on ensuring fair global vaccine access. “But we are a bit skeptical at the moment,” he said, “because we don’t see the forthcoming attitude that we’ve seen in the past.”
One disputed report in particular is driving much of the angst: that the Trump administration tried to acquire exclusive rights to the coronavirus vaccine business of CureVac, a German-based company. Trump aides and CureVac officials adamantly denied the mid-March report, but German officials confirmed and condemned it.
The U.S. is planning an intense push to create a vaccine and have enough doses available to cover most Americans by the end of this year, the president confirmed this week. The project is called “Operation Warp Speed,” according to Bloomberg News and other media reports, which described it as an effort to compress the usual process for developing a vaccine into a shorter timeline.
An acceptable vaccine could be at least a year to 18 months away; companies across the world, especially in the United States, Europe and China, are in the hunt to find a vaccine, and some trials are already underway. Some diplomats carefully pointed out that by the time vaccines are ready for sale and distribution, Trump may no longer be president, and his “America First” ideas may be shunted aside.
The United States has historically been a leader in global vaccine initiatives, often footing much of the bill. Its interest dates back decades and covers successful efforts to eradicate or dramatically constrain diseases such as smallpox, polio and measles. The focus has often been on vaccinating children so that they never fall ill and over time contribute to what’s known as “herd immunity” in their broader communities.
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