By Craig Snyder
The Biden Administration would have to go beyond supporting the vaccines already in use in this country and need an “all of the above” approach.
Joe Biden campaigned, and rightly so, on ending the pandemic as the number one priority and responsibility for the President of the United States. In his first major address to Congress and the nation, President Biden argued, also rightly I believe, that the number one priority and responsibility of the United States for decades to come will be meeting the challenges posed by an ever increasingly authoritarian and aggressive China.
There is one way to go a long way towards addressing both of these vital issues simultaneously — a massive vaccine diplomacy initiative, a commitment of appropriate and necessary scale for the US to take the lead in manufacturing and distributing vaccines to inoculate the majority of humanity outside of China (where our involvement wouldn’t be permitted, much less welcomed).
Think of it as the Marshall Plan meets the Moonshot. Could there be a better way to prove that the President is correct when he says the US “is back”, back as the leader of a values based world order, and back as the exemplar of the connection between a free society and an effective and innovative society?
Experts with who I’ve sketched out this idea think it would cost $50 billion, a lot of money to be sure, but yet a rounding error in the trillions already spent in the face of the pandemic, trillions more proposed for an enlarged system of domestic social benefits, and so much less than the unimaginable trillions which could need to be spent if, heaven forbid, further viral mutations escape the vaccines and plunge the US into what India is seeing right now.
To move on this concept meaningfully, the Administration would have to go beyond supporting the vaccines already in use in this country. It would need an “all of the above” approach and to renew the model used last year in the Warp Speed program.
The government would commit in advance, prior to FDA authorizations, to purchase sufficient doses of other vaccines currently in late stage development — including Covaxin, the Indian developed drug which Dr. Fauci and the WHO have recently told the world has shown effective against the new double mutant strain currently causing unspeakable pain in that country (but also already identified as present here in the US and in many other counties as well) — and to use the Defense Production Act to ensure the manufacturing capabilities to produce those doses.
The United States would then become — as we have been for 80 years, the “arsenal of democracy” — the world’s Covid-beating medicine cabinet.
There is good reason to believe that the United States today is simply in the eye of the hurricane of Covid, given the possibility of a more lethal and/or transmissible variant which can escape the protection afforded by our current vaccines (to say nothing about the ongoing vulnerability of unvaccinated Americans, including all Americans under age 12) coming to our shores from India or anywhere else in the world in which the virus rages unchecked. So far we may have been building a submarine with a screen door.
This pandemic must be truly controlled, not merely in an intermission, for everything we want as Americans going forward to be possible. Until the majority of humanity has been vaccinated, or has reached immunity through untold sickness and death, the devastation continues, and so does this chance we dare not ignore for even more transmissible and lethal variants.
One startling recent case underscores this point. A renowned infectious disease doctor, and Rutgers University Professor, fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, died from Covid on April 28, having contracted the disease while visiting India to care for family members.
Of course, idiosyncratic breakout infections, and even fatalities, are always possible, even with highly effective vaccines. Such cases don’t in any way lessen the urgency for widespread use of the vaccines currently available. But such cases, and the danger they could portend, demand action to develop as broad and deep as possible an arsenal of vaccines, based on as many as possible technology platforms as are available, and to distribute them to all mankind.
The good news is that it has only taken a little more than a year for science to catch up with the disease and give us a growing kit of effective tools, with differentiated advantages and options in the short term pipeline. But, as has been the case before in history, American complacency or a mistaken belief that we can protect only ourselves and actually be protected can lead to disaster.
If we want the world vaccinated, we are going to have to take this kind of leadership role. Convincing the world to waive patent protections on the vaccines may or not be either an achievable or a good idea —it’s opposed by Chancellor Merkel of Germany, for example, and the industry argues it will disincentivize innovation, to the extent it’s impact can’t be avoided by using other forms of trade secrecy — but it would not increase the quantity or the speed of the supply nearly as fast as this direct US investment “Marshall Plan” approach. And as with the original Marshall plan, helping others in this way would be the best thing we can do for ourselves as well.
When Hitler conquered France in 1940, Winston Churchill pledged that the British would fight on the beaches and in the streets but knew that they could but hang on by a thread, as he put it: “until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
Just as then, only the United States of America is positioned to lead the world out of this difficult time and into a better future. We can do it. We should do it. What in the world are we waiting for?
(Craig Snyder is CEO of Indigo Global Corporation and Executive Director of the newly created nonprofit, The Ark Institute: a Think and Do Tank for Pandemic Preparedness. He is registered to lobby for Ocugen, the Philadelphia area company working to bring the Covid vaccine Covaxin to the US. Snyder is currently exploring the possibility of a 2022 United States Senate candidacy in Pennsylvania.)
US helping India significantly: Joe Biden (May 5, 2021)
US helping India significantly: Joe Biden (May 5, 2021)
Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella rushing aid to covid-hit India (April 26, 2021)
Vinod Khosla offers to help Indian hospitals with import of oxygen (April 24, 2021)
Covid tsunami hits India with record 332,000 daily cases (April 23, 2021)
READ: Don’t let the ‘America First’ derail India-U.S. ties (April 24, 202)