Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.
It’s certainly wonderful that COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out in wealthy countries this month—Germany will commence vaccinations just after Christmas, pending European Medicines Agency approval that is expected Monday—but what of lower-income countries?
A great deal rests on the shoulders of the World Health Organization-affiliated COVAX facility, which is subsidizing bulk buys for such countries. As Cambodia just demonstrated by shunning China’s Sinovac shots, many countries would rather lean on COVAX than offer up their citizens for Chinese trials (Beijing is having to test its vaccines outside China, because its success in tackling the pandemic undermines the effectiveness of domestic trials.)
But COVAX is in big trouble, largely due to underfunding. Reuters reported yesterday that this factor, plus vaccine trial setbacks, distribution challenges and the complexity of supply contracts, meant billions of people could have no access to a vaccine until 2024.
Just to reach its target of vaccinating a fifth of people in lower-income countries next year, COVAX needs $4.9 billion on top of the $2.1 billion already in its coffers.
So far, the biggest heroes in this story are the U.K. and the European Union—the former has pledged over $700 million for COVAX, and the EU has so far allocated over $1 billion to the effort—plus wealthy donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has committed $156 million.
Where’s the U.S. in all this? Nowhere, yet—the America-first Trump administration shunned COVAX back in September, because the World Health Organization is involved. The big question now is whether President-elect Biden will muster the U.S.’s considerable financial might (as the EU has asked him to do) to aid this globally crucial scheme.
Of course, Biden’s first concern will need to be the U.S.’s own terrifying COVID landscape. But make no mistake, the success or otherwise of COVAX will have considerable repercussions for the U.S., as it will for every other country.
COVID-19 is a pandemic, and it won’t be truly under control until it’s been stamped out everywhere. Even as wealthy countries immunize their populations, many people there cannot or will not get vaccinated; when the world’s borders open up again, they will remain vulnerable. That means the U.S.’s return to normal does not just rest on what happens within America’s borders.
Biden’s a multilateralist, and it’s this aspect of his looming presidency that most appeals to the rest of the world. There would be no better way for him to revive the U.S.’s standing on the international stage, and to keep the U.S. safe, than to help make COVAX a success.
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