For US to lead on global COVID-19 response, president must seek emergency supplemental
Since the beginning of COVID, many have been calling for a truly global solution to end the pandemic through effective vaccine procurement, distribution, and last-mile delivery across the globe — an effort bold enough to put an end to the most dangerous phase of the pandemic.
According to public health experts, vaccinating 70 percent of people in all countries is our way out of this acute phase of the crisis, and global nonprofit organizations estimate that the world must invest around $63 billion dollars in 2022 to reach this goal. That sounds like a lot until you compare it to the loss of over 5 million lives and tens of trillions of dollars in costs precipitated by the ongoing pandemic.
To date, less than 10 percent of people in low-income countries are vaccinated. In neighboring Haiti, where people are facing multiple, compounding crises, less than 1 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.
In many cases, last-mile delivery is the biggest challenge. Procuring and distributing vaccines to major urban centers is neither cheap nor easy, but the most difficult work lies in reaching communities in remote, rural, or mountainous regions. Many countries lack the resources to ensure there are enough frontline health workers, effective public health messaging, and strategies for reaching the poorest and most marginalized communities.
In Malawi where the government is deploying mobile vaccination sites, one van is expected to serve a target population of 214,929 people living in over 3,424 square kilometers — an area roughly the size of Rhodes Island. This scarcity of resources is representative of the challenges public health officials across the globe are facing with last-mile delivery.
With a global pandemic, there is no “us” and “them.” COVID-19 ignores the territorial boundaries between countries and the political divides between red and blue states. This is a global fight, and our solutions must be as big and bold as the challenge itself.
Some estimate that America’s share of the $63 billion dollars needed to save lives and vaccinate 70 percent of the world is $17 billion dollars. (By comparison, the U.S. has already spent more than $6 trillion on domestic response and economic recovery.) It is imperative that the administration make an immediate supplemental request of Congress, and that Congress act swiftly to allocate these resources.
To date, America has shown meaningful leadership when it led on setting the target of achieving 70 percent global vaccinations in 2022 during a global Summit in September. The United States has pledged to donate 1.1 billion vaccine doses — more than any other country — and has provided much needed funding for the global response since the pandemic started.
But even this is not sufficient to implement an effective global vaccination campaign. We have yet to see the support necessary to achieve the targets set in the fall. We cannot simply say, we have done a great deal; the United States must lead the global community to meet the threshold of investment required to vaccinate the world.
The cost of inaction is too high. American citizens understand that we can’t stop at responding within our own borders when waves of the pandemic continue to circle the globe. More than 800,000 Americans have lost their lives — more than any other country. The exhaustion and frustration of the American people is palpable.
But it is not just our daily lives that are being impacted by COVID. America’s long-term strategic interests are also at stake. The American public understands the need for the U.S. to lead in the world, and the dangerous void it leaves when we do not. China and Russia have been leading aggressive “vaccine diplomacy” campaigns, exchanging vaccines and support for health services for influence, access, and allegiance. We have already seen China’s efforts to leverage vaccines for influence pay off in places like Central America and the Caribbean.
The United States alone cannot bear the exclusive responsibility for vaccinating the world, but we do bear the cost of the world’s inaction. Other members of the G7, and other wealthy nations, need to do their part. America’s leadership is critical to muster this urgent collective response.
We cannot afford to wait for another variant to spur us to greater action. It is time for the Biden administration to once again pick up the mantle of leadership and set the example for other G7 leaders. It is time for the White House to ask Congress to invest what is needed to dramatically reduce the severity of this global pandemic before the next variant hits.
Michèle Flournoy, Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy & member of CARE USA Board of Directors. Charles W. Dent, Former member of Congress & member of CARE USA Board of Directors
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