Budowsky: Warning to Biden: fix the deadly vaccine shortage
President Biden should act forcefully and fast to increase the number of vaccines produced in the coming weeks and months before rapidly spreading new mutations of the COVID-19 virus, which are more contagious and deadly than earlier forms of the virus, further overwhelm our health care system and endanger the effectiveness of current vaccines.
If public opinion polls were taken about pursuing policies to dramatically increase the supply of vaccines, the favorable numbers would be off the charts. If the Congressional Budget Office did an economic analysis of this, it would reveal a major increase in jobs and gross domestic product.
More Americans have died from COVID-19 than the number of American troops who died during the Second World War, which is widely estimated to be between 405,000 to 407,000 killed in action. COVID-19 deaths in America have already risen above 441,000.
On Jan. 29, after Biden became president, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected the death toll will rise to between 479,000 to 514,000 by Feb. 20. Unless dramatic action is taken soon, even more ghoulish projections will soon be made for the death toll by March, April and May.
America and people around the world are in a deadly race against time. Will the number of vaccinations rise significantly above current levels before the mutating vaccines make the death tolls raise dramatically and make current vaccines less effective?
Biden has three options for action to dramatically increase the number of vaccinations.
First, he should arrange a conference with the CEOs of companies that have approved vaccines and ask them to waive their patent rights, which would enable other companies with major manufacturing capability to mass-produce large numbers of approved vaccines.
Second, the president could call on those CEOs to very quickly reach licensing agreements with those other companies to mass-produce significant numbers of vaccines until the vaccine shortage crisis has abated.
Third, Biden could invoke the Defense Production Act and apply the law to vaccines directly, which is what I thought he would do when he kept invoking the act throughout his campaign for president.
Let’s be clear.
On the day Biden was inaugurated, the number of daily vaccines was approximately 1 million a day. When he promises today to achieve 1 million vaccines a day, he offers nothing more than what was achieved under former President Trump. Similarly, when he promises today 100 million vaccines in his first hundred days, that also is nothing more than what would have happened under Trump. We can do better. We must do better.
Last week New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) proposed that pharmaceutical companies waive their patents. Dean Baker, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has been championing for months the suspension of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines.
What has been lacking from the beginning of COVID-19 is that while there has been much talk about a wartime president to win the war against the virus, Trump never even tried to lead like a wartime president, and Biden has barely begun.
With more Americans dying from COVID-19 than died in World War II, where is the wartime emergency to escalate vaccine production to win the war? Imagine if Adolf Hitler invaded America, as COVID-19 is invading America, and had Nazi soldiers killing Americans in every city and town in every state, as COVID-19 kills Americans in every city and town!
America faces extraordinary dangers, while Biden has an extraordinary opportunity if he rises to the occasion to go all-out to mass-produce far more vaccines, far sooner, than we are producing today.
Biden can inspire the nation to the “we are in this together” spirit by asking what all citizens, including pharmaceutical companies that produce vaccines and have received enormous financial support and benefits from the government, can do for our country — and the world.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.
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