COVID vaccinations must accelerate across the globe; U.S. must lead the way

Image: district4health.org

If you spend time watching Dr. Michael Osterholm on Sundays, on NBC’s Meet the Press, or take some time to scrutinize the headlines, it’s becoming increasingly alarming that while we can make significant progress to inoculate Americans, we are falling short, critically, on finding a way to halt the pandemic. We have already seen the incredibly contagious mutations work their way across the globe. While these variants — the B.1.1.7 in particular — are succumbing to the vaccine, it’s still important to note that as long as the virus is free to spread around the globe, then we will continue to see more mutations emerge.

In a journal entry in the publication, Oxfam, it’s very clear to see just how concerned epidemiologists are about the forthcoming situation:

Epidemiologists from some of the world’s leading academic institutions delivered a stark warning today of the risk the world is taking by failing to ensure all countries have sufficient vaccines to protect people from COVID-19. In a survey of 77 epidemiologists from 28 countries, carried out by The People’s Vaccine Alliance, two-thirds thought that we had a year or less before the virus mutates to the extent that the majority of first-generation vaccines are rendered ineffective and new or modified vaccines are required. Of those surveyed, almost a third gave a timeframe of nine months or less. Fewer than one in eight said they believed that mutations would never render the current vaccines ineffective. (Oxfam).

The need to distribute vaccines has to become a judicious strategy for the Biden administration — this is the key, so that the global community can defeat the virus. When you see nearly eighty epidemiologists across the globe inferring that our current vaccines will be rendered ineffective against the virus in a year; I ask myself: what’s going on here? Furthermore, how would this motivate people here in the United States to get inoculated, if they feel as though it will be useless in a year? I also ask this: do people living in this country understand the circumstances of this dilemma? If we don’t make an effort to help the entire globe with inoculations, then the pandemic will NEVER END.

Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, said: “The more the virus circulates, the more likely it is that mutations and variants will emerge, which could make our current vaccines ineffective. At the same time, poor countries are being left behind without vaccines and basic medical supplies like oxygen.

What’s stopping the Biden administration from taking the reins on this and expanding distribution globally? I think it comes back to politics, again. However, entangling politics and managing an epidemic is a ridiculous passage.

Still, the reaction among Americans could be explosive if Biden supplies vaccines to other countries while many in the United States are still struggling to get the shots. Biden signaled this week that he feels pressure to balance domestic and global needs.

“If we have a surplus, we’re going to share it with the rest of the world,” he said Wednesday, when pressed on the issue. “We’re going to start off making sure Americans are taken care of first, but we’re then going to try to help the rest of the world.”

His remark followed an announcement that the United States has secured 100 million more doses of the single-dose vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, bringing the projected U.S. supply far past the number of Americans in line to receive shots this year. (Gearan and Berger, WAPO, 3/11/21).

And…

Still, if all goes well, the United States would have an oversupply of vaccine later this year. The administration has not said how much vaccine it considers sufficient, or what threshold it would set before considering exporting vaccines.

Biden has joined Covax, an international vaccine consortium that aims to make vaccine distribution more equitable, but the United States’ promised $4 billion contribution is not a direct handout of U.S.-made vials on the model that China and other nations are pursuing. It is also a departure from the muscular U.S. efforts directed at Ebola, HIV, smallpox and other scourges.

Even so, Biden appeared this week to be laying the groundwork for an argument that by protecting other nations, the United States also would be protecting Americans. “This is not something that can be stopped by a fence, no matter how high you build a fence or a wall. So we’re not going be ultimately safe until the world is safe,” he said. (Gearan and Berger, WAPO, 3/11/21).

I do like what Biden is trying to do — early on in the process — and I especially support the correlation about how we are not dealing with a capricious predicament here. The U.S. can’t just close itself off forever, as though it’s enclosed in a bubble. Part of the success the Obama administration had with combating Ebola and the other epidemics was contingent on the investment we made in isolating these viruses in the origins the infliction was greater. Biden is striving to do the same here, but unlike the Obama administration, he has to deal with the consequences of his futile predecessor (also known as the “Trump admin”), and their action and influence over the American public when the epidemic unfolded.

Politically, I think Biden understands both Republicans and “populists” are constantly determined to set a precedent to ignore the global community and only demand U.S. attention. This goes hand and hand with the xenophobia we have seen over the past four years. Biden alludes to this consonance over and over: this is not something that should be politized or looked at through a partisan lens. This is a global health crisis, which will never recede until the global community has also defeated it.

Going back to the piece in Oxfam, another point stuck out, implicitly:

Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director of CAPRISA and Professor in Clinical Epidemiology at Columbia University, said: “As nations start to expand their vaccination programmes we are once again reminded about our inter-dependence. High coverage rates and herd immunity in one country or region of the world while others, particularly low- and middle-income countries, continue to wait in line will create the perfect environment for the virus to continue to mutate and negate the benefits of any vaccine protection.

“In contrast, there are enormous benefits for everyone to have more equitable access to available doses of vaccines and achieve herd immunity globally sooner. As scientists, advocates, and decision-makers we must ensure that as many people are vaccinated all over the world and as soon as possible so that we can all focus our efforts in rebuilding our communities, livelihoods, and economies and know that we are all safe from COVID-19 and be better prepared for the next pandemic.” (Oxfam).

Even if the United States can find a way to achieve herd immunity (which will be strenuous, as millions of “populists” and apolitical citizens are refusing inoculations), we still won’t be able to move on from the epidemic. Here’s what will happen: we will have a new pandemic and will be forced to develop yet another vaccine to combat it. Because the current strain of COVID is mutating, we will be unable to slow the mutations in other countries and the infections will rise again and again.

We almost have to think of it this way: it’s an interminable cycle that can only be stymied if you distribute more vaccines to these areas that desperately need them. For those Americans who may recoil into outrage about why we are deducting from our vaccine supply, I ask this: do you think we will have a supply issue, considering so many people are still unwilling to be inoculated? Our campaign has been very successful; we are way ahead of all other countries. While there is a current incongruence in rising case numbers — such as why Michigan is a hot spot and California is virtually unaffected, as of today — all this can be undone if the U.S. does not find a way to relinquish the politics and work with the rest of the world…

Works Cited:

1. “Two-thirds of epidemiologists warn mutations could render current COVID vaccines ineffective in a year or less; New survey from People’s Vaccine Alliance shows urgency of vaccinating all countries.” Oxfam. March 30, 2021. https://reliefweb.int/report/world/two-thirds-epidemiologists-warn-mutations-could-render-current-covid-vaccines. Accessed April 7, 2021.

2. Gearan, Amy & Berger, Miriam. “Biden faces pressure to distribute vaccines worldwide, while Americans still need them at home.” The Washington Post. March 11, 2021. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-vaccine-global-distribution/2021/03/11/62039c40-81db-11eb-81db-b02f0398f49a_story.html. Accessed April 7, 2021.

CA-based, perpetually hopeful for the progress of society… Follow me on Twitter @andrewnintzel22

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