It's in America's best interest to lead global COVID-19 vaccine distribution
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Although we now have the tools we need to end the coronavirus pandemic — the COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized and put to use, along with social distancing, masking, and other public health guidelines — we are now facing the growing threat of new COVID-19 variants. Here in the U.S., the South African variant of COVID-19 has been detected in multiple states, and in New Jersey, one person who had contracted the UK COVID-19 variant has already tragically passed away.

We know that the more this virus continues to spread unchecked throughout the world, the more opportunities there will be for it to mutate into new strains — strains that have the potential to be more infectious, more deadly, and more resistant to existing vaccines.

That’s why our humanitarian interest in ending the global pandemic — averting hundreds of thousands of needless deaths in poorer countries and ending the global economic calamity that is on track to push 170 million more people in the developing world into poverty — now aligns exactly with our self-interest.

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As we work here in the United States to get this virus under control and ramp up vaccine distribution in every state and every community — and especially expand access for Black and Brown communities who have been hardest hit by the virus — we also need to lead a cooperative, global effort to make more vaccines available everywhere. Doing that means making more vaccines.

While wealthy countries have claimed the vast majority of COVID-19 vaccines currently available, many low-income countries have been unable to reserve enough doses to even cover the most vulnerable portions of their population in the near future. Despite important efforts to ensure some vaccines are made available for poorer countries, on our present trajectory it may take four years for everyone to get vaccinated, with the poor last in line.

So rather than focusing only on how to allocate a limited supply of vaccines, we need to think about how the United States can spearhead an effort to produce as much as the world needs, as fast as possible.

The U.S. government, under the leadership of President BidenJoe BidenFour members of Sikh community among victims in Indianapolis shooting Overnight Health: NIH reverses Trump's ban on fetal tissue research | Biden investing .7B to fight virus variants | CDC panel to meet again Friday on J&J On The Money: Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats | Justice Dept. sues Trump ally Roger Stone for unpaid taxes MORE, has authority under existing law to do things that will dramatically ramp up global vaccine access.

The United States and other capable countries can invest heavily in scaled-up vaccine manufacturing facilities so that we can produce as many vaccines as possible. No matter how well-intentioned they may be, no one company has enough manufacturing capacity on its own and individual licensing deals won’t get us to scale fast enough. We need all hands on deck, working as quickly as possible to produce as many safe, effective vaccines as we can.

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President Biden also can work with vaccine intellectual property holders and manufacturers to share information about how to make safe, efficacious vaccines with all qualified manufacturers here in the U.S. and throughout the world. Furthermore, there are existing structures and pathways such as the Defense Production Act that would allow the government to assist in the production and distribution of these newly approved vaccines.

These actions will not only ensure that all Americans are vaccinated more quickly — but by boosting global vaccine access and getting COVID-19 under control everywhere, we will help to ensure that those vaccines remain effective by preventing further mutations of the virus that are caused by COVID-19 spreading unchecked. As Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health: NIH reverses Trump's ban on fetal tissue research | Biden investing .7B to fight virus variants | CDC panel to meet again Friday on J&J Fox News's Bret Baier posts vaccination selfie The Hill's 12:30 Report: Nearly half of U.S. adults partially or fully vaccinated MORE noted, “viruses cannot mutate if they don't replicate.”

There are other self-interested reasons to ensure global vaccine access. The investment in building up vaccine supply will pay for itself many times over. A study by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Research Foundation found that if developing countries can’t access the COVID-19 vaccine, the global economy as a whole could lose up to $9.2 trillion. In short, no economy can recover fully from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic until vaccines are accessible in all countries.

There is an important foreign policy consideration, as well. Boosting global vaccine production and access to bring the global pandemic to a speedy end will demonstrate the U.S.’s scientific prowess, generosity, humanitarian concern and cooperative spirit and work to re-establish our badly injured standing and leadership in the world.

It is in Americans’ best interest to eradicate COVID-19 everywhere it appears. By sharing the information and know-how to develop the vaccine, and boosting our own manufacturing and production efforts, we can ensure every American has access to COVID-19 vaccines, diminish the risk from new variants, and prevent needless death and suffering around the world.

Cory BookerCory BookerProgressive lawmakers press DHS chief on immigration detention Democrats battle over best path for Puerto Rico Biden's DOJ civil rights nominee faces sharp GOP criticism MORE is the junior senator from New Jersey and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen.