Well before Joe Biden marked the end of his first hundred days as president, his administration doubled the goal of 100 million vaccinations he set at the beginning. His government's performance suggests that we can eventually temper the hesitancy among certain populations — notably white males who watch too much Fox News — on our way to herd immunity.
After the United States manages to inoculate the great majority of those who live here, however, we will still have to face a greater threat — and a lesson about life on this planet that we ought to have learned decades ago.
The rich nations, including ours, must vaccinate the poor nations, all of them, or we will never escape the shadow of the pandemic. This is an obvious moral imperative, since billions of lives are at stake. But if that doesn't work for you, try this: Every unvaccinated human being on Earth is a potential breeder of virus mutations that could evade current vaccines and decimate our population.
That's the merciless science of viruses — and yet, to date, we and our allies have done far too little to ensure that the miraculous vaccines will find every arm that requires one.
Biden seemed to acknowledge the necessity of a global vaccination campaign within weeks of taking office, when he promised to deliver $4 billion for Covax, a multilateral effort promoted by the World Health Organization to finance vaccination in poorer countries. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is trying to raise another $2 billion.
Unfortunately, those well-meaning pledges won't mean much in the developing world now, as a recent report from scientists at Duke University points out, because wealthy nations have cornered the vaccine market. With a population of just over a billion, those nations have acquired nearly 5 billion doses, locking up production capacity for months ahead.
By July 4, when the president hopes we can all enjoy barbecues with friends and family, the United States will have over 300 million extra doses on ice — enough to immunize the entire populations of many smaller countries that have almost none. Neither the United States nor its allies have announced any plan to donate the hundreds of millions of extra vaccines to the needier nations. Which means that another two years or more may pass before people in those countries can be vaccinated; many, many innocent people will die; and the danger of vaccine-proof mutant viruses will grow exponentially.
The intractable inequities are made worse by bad policies that have somehow survived the pandemic, including the insistence on protecting vaccine patents by the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union. Those powerful states stymied a petition to the World Trade Organization from nearly a hundred developing countries to set aside patent protections on vaccines during the pandemic. They asked for a temporary waiver, but in fact, it should be permanent.
And that is only the first step in recognition of our global mutuality. Despite the xenophobic barking that got so loud during the era of former President Trump, the truth is that none of us will be safe until all of us are safe — and that will remain true for our children and their children. The strutting nationalists who denounce "globalism" have no viable answers to the problems we confront, from pandemics to climate change; instead, they pretend those crises aren't real.
Such denialism remains the "nationalist" attitude toward the pandemic even now. After burying more than 570,000 of our fellow Americans, we know how that blind approach has worked out. Hostility, ignorance and selfishness equal death.
Whether we like it or not, we live on a globalizing world with billions of other people, and at the moment, we have nowhere else to go. After all this misery, we must grow up and act as if we understand that most basic fact — lifting up humanity together, the only way we will save ourselves.
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