STOCKHOLM, Sweden (Project Syndicate) – With day-to-day ‘vaccine nationalism’ intensifying, the global effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to falter. By mid-March, the coronavirus had infected around 120 million people worldwide, causing around 2.6 million deaths. While these are huge numbers, they only represent a fraction of the world’s population, which means the pandemic still has a very long way to go.
The good news is the historically unprecedented effort to fight the crisis. Although the introduction of a new vaccine through the development and approval stages normally takes up to a decade, pharmaceutical companies completed the process in less than a year. The World Health Organization has already approved four COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use, with more likely to follow soon. In addition, ambitious new global mechanisms have been created in a short time to facilitate the rapid and equitable distribution of vaccines around the world.
There is a high risk that new variants of the virus will frustrate or even derail the entire vaccination effort.
Fixed on his own situation
For example, since April 2020, the WHO COVID-19 Tool Access Accelerator (ACT), which includes all aspects of pandemic control, has contributed to the fight against the virus by facilitating the one of the fastest coordinated global public health efforts in history. . And now, the COVAX facility has started vaccine deliveries to at least 50 low- and middle-income countries around the world (although initial supplies were limited in the early stages of vaccine production).
National leaders who bend to domestic pressure and rack up COVID-19 vaccines will end up leaving their own country worse off, given the coronavirus’ propensity to acquire new mutations. Now it is us against them – humanity against the virus and its many mutations.
But aside from these initiatives, most countries are obsessed with their own plight, neglecting the global connectivity that leaves us all vulnerable until the virus is eradicated everywhere. As the WHO has pointed out, no one is safe until everyone is safe.
Notice: Buying all COVID vaccines is a losing strategy for rich countries
As we are now seeing firsthand, there is a high risk that new variants of the virus will frustrate or even derail the entire vaccination effort. We’re currently dealing with the new British (B.1.1.7), South African (B.1.351) and Brazilian (P.1) variants, and it’s unclear where the next one will emerge. The longer the pandemic lasts, the more opportunities the virus will have to acquire new dangerous mutations that would allow it to escape current vaccines. The question is not whether but when.
In addition, when new variants emerge, it can be expected that sooner or later they will spread around the world. We must now realize that national borders and physical distance offer only limited protection.
The terrible cost of going it alone
In addition to protecting us from a biological threat, a comprehensive and coordinated global response also has a clear economic rationale. In our highly integrated global economy, the fate of one region will necessarily be felt elsewhere. Surprising recent study commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce warns that “the global economy stands to lose up to $ 9.2 trillion if governments fail to ensure developing economies’ access to COVID-19 vaccines , half of which would fall on advanced vaccines. savings. ”
Notice: It is in our direct economic interest to vaccinate the whole world as soon as possible
And reports from RAND Europe and the Eurasia Group offer similar conclusions.
Notice: For just $ 25 billion, the United States could revive a project to quickly vaccinate the whole world against COVID
The cost of the fight against the pandemic must be considered in this perspective. The ACT accelerator initially needed $ 38 billion for 2020-2021. Unprecedented mobilization of resources by governments and the private sector, along with philanthropic and multilateral contributions, has now reduced the funding gap to $ 22 billion. That’s peanuts compared to the potential losses estimated above, not to mention the trillions of dollars that have already been spent to support households and businesses over the past year.
And yet, the threat of vaccine nationalism is great. Governments are under intense domestic political pressure to obtain vaccines for their populations before allowing doses to be sent elsewhere. And some, like China, India and Russia, have started to use vaccine supplies and deliveries as an instrument of their foreign policy.
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Humanity against the virus
Yet, as tempting as vaccine nationalism may be to policymakers, it is ultimately self-defeating. Each new restriction inevitably limits the overall deployment and increases the likelihood that vaccines will not reach the places where they are most urgent. More than ever, we need an open, transparent and well-functioning global economy. And, more than ever, we need political leaders who behave like statesmen, not tacticians.
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Make no mistake: we are facing a historic test of our ability to unite against a common threat. All our usual conflicts, our rivalries and our sources of geopolitical tension remain of course; the question now is whether we can look beyond them when the situation calls for it.
Now it is us against them – humanity against the virus and its many mutations. We will stay or fall together.
Carl Bildt was Swedish Foreign Minister from 2006 to 2014 and Prime Minister from 1991 to 1994, when he negotiated Sweden’s EU membership. A renowned international diplomat, he was EU Special Envoy to the former Yugoslavia, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, UN Special Envoy in the Balkans and Co-Chair of the Dayton Peace Conference. He is co-president of the European Council on External Relations.
This commentary was posted with permission from Project Syndicate – Humanity’s Historic Test.