US won’t join global coronavirus vaccine initiative

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The United States will not join a global effort led by the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop, manufacture and distribute a vaccine against the coronavirus, the White House said Tuesday.

The decision represents a gamble by the Trump administration — one that could threaten to leave the country behind if the first viable vaccine candidate is developed by another country.

Almost every nation in the world is participating in initial talks on the joint COVAX project involving the WHO, the European Union, Germany, Japan and several major nongovernmental organizations.

The project, announced by the WHO earlier this year, would distribute an eventual vaccine candidate to countries around the world based on the number of high-risk residents in each nation.

But the White House said the United States will not be among those nations.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, vaccine and therapeutic research, development, and trials have advanced at unprecedented speed to deliver groundbreaking, effective medicines driven by data and safety and not held back by government red tape,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said. “The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.” 

“This President will spare no expense to ensure that any new vaccine maintains our own FDA’s gold standard for safety and efficacy, is thoroughly tested, and saves lives,” Deere added.

The decision brought swift criticism from public health experts who said it represented a myopic view of what should be a global effort to control the pandemic.

“From a global health perspective it’s a very unwise decision,” said Andrea Feigl-Ding, founder and CEO of the Health Finance Institute. “It’s symptomatic of a death culture. That’s a strong word, but us versus them helps no one.”

President Trump has sought to shift blame from his own administration to the WHO, even as the virus spreads more widely in the United States than in any other nation on earth.

The administration has blamed the WHO for failing to hold China to account, even though the WHO declared the pandemic a public health emergency of international concern — its highest level of alert — more than a month before the Trump administration declared its own emergency.

Trump has begun the process of pulling out of the WHO, a process that would not be complete until the next presidential term begins in January.

Global health agencies launched the COVAX project to ensure that poor and developing countries could get access to an eventual vaccine at the same rate as wealthy and developed nations.

The United States has already signed deals with a handful of manufacturers guaranteeing delivery of hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine candidates if they prove safe and effective.

But health experts caution the pandemic will not end until it is under control globally.

“I think we need to keep in mind that we’re only safe if everybody is safe,” Seth Berkley, who heads Gavi, the vaccine alliance, told The Hill in an interview in July. “If the pandemic is raging out of control in other countries, you still won’t go back to normal travel, tourism, commerce.”

Several of the vaccine candidates in large-scale phase two and phase three trials are being developed by companies based in the United States, including potential products from Moderna and Pfizer. But other promising candidates racing to market are being developed by European, Australian and Chinese firms, meaning there is no guarantee that the United States would get the first access to those candidates if and when they prove effective.

Even if the United States does get access to the first round of vaccines, cornering the market on a product that is needed across the globe could lengthen the scope of the pandemic.

“It’s a bit of a political move to show the U.S. versus the world, and it’s probably a move they think they can win even though we should be all in this together,” Feigl-Ding said in an interview Tuesday. “There’s massive disparities that are just going to be propagated.”

—Morgan Chalfant contributed.

Tags Coronavirus coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 COVID-19 vaccine Donald Trump Vaccines World Health Organization

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