US, wealthy nations facing a great moral challenge: NYT

The US and the rest of the world’s wealthiest nations are facing a great moral challenge, The New York Times Editorial Board said.

“The United States is well on its way to protecting Americans from the coronavirus. It’s time to help the rest of the world. By marshalling this nation’s vast resources to produce and distribute enough vaccines to meet global demand, the United States would act in keeping with the nation’s best traditions and highest aspirations while advancing its geopolitical and economic interests. It is a moment of both obligation and opportunity”, the editorial said.

It criticised the Joe Biden administration for insufficient steps. “Unfortunately, instead of a bold, comprehensive strategy to vaccinate the world as quickly as possible, the Biden administration has thus far made a string of tactical decisions: donating millions of doses to countries in need, signalling its support for patent waivers that might expedite vaccine production efforts and nudging two companies — Merck and Johnson & Johnson — to collaborate on increasing supply,” it said.

“These are good steps, but they are not nearly sufficient to meet the moment. The United States and the rest of the world’s wealthiest nations are facing a great moral challenge,” it added.

NYT said President Biden can start by announcing that the US intends to help and by appointing a vaccine czar to oversee the expansion of vaccine production. The federal government has ample legal power to compel the participation of the pharmaceutical companies, including the sharing of critical information and technologies. Congress has appropriated $16 billion to scale up production, most of which remains unspent.

Covax, the World Health Organisation’s initiative to pool vaccine resources, remains profoundly underfunded and has failed to meet even its modest target of vaccinating one-fifth of the population in the Global South, it said.

“Without a major course correction, the rest of the world will have to wait until 2023 or later for large-scale vaccination initiatives like the one underway in the United States. The consequences of this disparity are expected to be severe. Hundreds of thousands more people will get sick and die from a disease that is now preventable with a vaccine,” it added.

“The global economy will contract by trillions of dollars, according to the International Chamber of Commerce, and tens of millions of people will plummet into extreme poverty as the virus continues to fester and evolve in the world’s more vulnerable reaches,” it added.

It added that as global hunger rises and global life expectancy falls, instability will prevail. Already, Colombia is mired in deadly protests over the pandemic’s economic fallout. India is facing its gravest humanitarian catastrophe in a generation. As the United Nations has warned, a similar crisis in Syria would be catastrophic, the NYT said.

The NYT said increasing manufacturing capacity has proved tricky. The global demand for vaccines may be high now, but once the coronavirus pandemic recedes, it will plummet back to normal levels. Increased public ownership, for its part, would ensure that vaccine-production capacity is ready for future pandemics, which are inevitable — potentially including new coronavirus variants for which routine boosters may be required.