As more and more headlines begin to emerge about the ominous delta coronavirus variant, it is important to recognize the increasing importance of global vaccine distribution and research before it is too late.
Indeed, another outbreak of the pandemic would have devastating consequences in the United States, but these impacts would pale in comparison to the humanitarian, social and economic losses that would take place in the Global South. In fact, countries such as Thailand and Vietnam are already struggling to protect their citizens. Thailand was forced to transform an airport terminal in the nation’s capital into a 5,000-bed hospital to cope with the influx of new cases, while Vietnam had more cases in the first few days of July than in the first 14 months of the pandemic.
Amid oxygen shortages and record rises in cases, many developing nations lack the means necessary to diversify their resources and enforce proper protocol. In times like this, international vaccine distribution should be a top priority for the Biden administration.
As an intern for The Borgen Project — an advocacy organization that focuses on global poverty and American foreign policy — I have learned about the importance of foreign aid in supporting sustainable health care programs and infrastructural growth. In the short term, sharing excess vaccines and related supplies would steadily alleviate international travel restrictions, which would have immediate economic and security benefits. In the long term, doing so would allow for recovery from COVID-19 that does not worsen existing socioeconomic disparities but rather accounts for these gaps.
It is estimated that the United States alone will have nearly 553 million leftover vaccines after the entire population is vaccinated. There needs to be a plan to share these vaccines with countries that need them most: Bangladesh, Laos and Nepal, to name a few.
Nepal alone has experienced a 1,645% increase in cases in the past month; to make matters worse, the nation has a population of 30 million people yet is equipped with extremely limited supplies and only 80 physicians per 100,000 people. Similarly, Bangladesh is experiencing record-breaking case registrations, including more than 83,000 cases and 1,480 deaths last week alone. Although Laos has had a relatively stable year compared to other lower-income sovereignties, its government is likewise struggling to contain a recent surge, with an average of 92 new infections per day.
Of course, it is important to thank Congress for the work it has already done during these recent times of unprecedented change and economic turmoil. Rep. Judy Chu, D-California, has done a particularly great job in supporting provisions of relief and the Global Health Security Act, which will increase the U.S. government’s efforts to counter threats related to infectious disease outbreaks. Furthermore, the Biden administration has already pledged to share 80 million excess doses through COVAX.
But there is more work to be done. We must learn from our mistakes so we can be prepared with solutions for the future. This means working with COVAX to develop an immediate donation plan that takes into account all of the excess vaccines available, as opposed to only a limited percentile. Engaging in vaccine diplomacy should also take place alongside investments in research initiatives abroad and providing aid in the form of food and resource programs.
Ultimately, actions speak louder than words — and we must hold our government accountable for the promises it has made.