As countries race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, America’s willingness to cooperate on an international scale remains in question. Politico reports that President Donald Trump’s “America First” philosophy continues to be a source of concern for global leaders, who worry that Trump will embrace the vaccine race as a worldwide contest—one that puts poorer countries at a disadvantage to distribute doses and allows the coronavirus outbreak to go on longer than it otherwise might.
For instance, the United States did not participate last month in the virtual gathering prompted by the World Health Organization “to commit to distributing a future coronavirus vaccine in an internationally equitable way,” according to Politico. And a disputed report that the Trump administration tried to obtain exclusive rights to a German pharmaceutical company’s coronavirus vaccine has only heightened concerns. “The worst situation would be, if when these tools are available, they go to the highest bidder,” said Melinda Gates, whose foundation is collaborating with pharmaceutical companies around the world to end the pandemic. “That would be terrible for the world. Covid-19 anywhere is Covid-19 everywhere.”
Trump’s ongoing attacks against the WHO (which he recently halted America’s funding for) and China (who he has blamed for the spread of the virus) further suggest that the U.S. could be less than cooperative in the global rollout of a vaccine. “We remain deeply concerned about the WHO’s effectiveness, given that its gross failures helped fuel the current pandemic,” a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told Politico when asked about the Trump administration’s participation and plans for the global vaccine initiative.
The U.S. is not alone in signaling a nationalist approach to the development and distribution of a vaccine. As the New York Times reports, the most promising clinical trial in China is financed by the government and the chief executive of India’s Serum Institute—the world’s largest vaccine producer which recently announced plans to produce up to 60 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine—said that most of its vaccine “would have to go to our countrymen before it goes abroad.” Meanwhile, some experts have urged global cooperation. “We are not racing against each other, we are racing the virus,” Dr. Dan Barouch, the director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told the Times. “What we need is a global vaccine—because an outbreak in one part of the world puts the rest of the world at risk.”
Trump said this week that he is in charge of “Operation Warp Speed,” a program attempting to accelerate the typical timeline for developing a vaccine. The administration plans to distribute 300 million doses to Americans by January and, in order to meet this goal, has already narrowed down the group of vaccine projects it intends to focus on. But as the Times notes, the global search for a vaccine is simultaneously “dogged by uncertainty” about whether any vaccine will effectively combat the virus and whether “the rush—compressing a process that can take 10 years into 10 months—will sacrifice safety.”
The search for a vaccine is playing out as parts of the U.S. reopen, despite, as my colleague Eric Lutz notes, the fact that the country still lacks an adequate testing system to track the virus as it continues to spread. A White House official told Axios that “a powerful image of American strength and the idea of what reopening looks like” is what the administration wants to project with America Together: Returning to Work, the virtual town hall airing Sunday on Fox News.
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