US declines to join WHO effort for global COVID-19 vaccine

On August 31, the United States made the decision not to participate in an effort put forth by the World Health Organization (WHO) to create a multi-national COVID-19 vaccine research and distribution program. This America-first approach is not new, as was seen with the decision made earlier this year for the U.S. to withdraw from the WHO completely. The vaccine research system in question is called COVAX, and there are 172 countries around the world that are dedicating resources to develop and eventually distribute a vaccine. The main purpose of the COVAX campaign is to “accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.” The U.S. has a similar system that is currently only for its own citizens called Operation Warp Speed. The official statement from the White House behind this decision was that “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.” As seen by this statement, the nationalism versus globalism debate within the U.S. government is ongoing and more prevalent than ever. Samuel Lovett, who writes for the Independent, stated, “for the world to recover faster, it has to recover together because it’s a globalized world: the economies are intertwined.”

Up until recently, the United States has had an amicable, productive relationship with the WHO. The U.S. has been one of the most significant donors to the organization, giving 400 million dollars in 2019 alone. Leading medical experts and governments across the world have criticized the nation’s recent choices. The main argument against this decision is that if the U.S. produces and distributes vaccines only for its citizens, people from other countries will still be able to come into the country and eventually further the spread of the virus. In such a globalized society, many find it hard to hold an “us against them” mentality in this situation. The WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, released a general statement that was perhaps directed towards the U.S., saying that “you cannot defeat this dangerous enemy in a divided world.” 

Even though the U.S. is opposed to collaboration with the WHO, there are many other organizations that support global medical collaboration. Global Justice Now is one such nonprofit based in the United Kingdom. In this context, they fear that rich countries hoarding potential vaccines will cause less access to vaccines for poor countries. Since the effects of a global pandemic have never before been dealt with in modern society, there are no guidelines on how best to tackle this problem. It ultimately depends on the leadership throughout the world and their opinions on living in a global society. If they believe that we are living in an interconnected world, international efforts are likely to be more prevalent. If leaders take a more nationalistic approach, they will be more likely to focus their resources solely on their own country and not seek to find a worldwide solution.

Alli Mitchell ('22) is a Staff Writer for the Beyond section. She is majoring in Political Science and double minoring in Art History and Environmental Studies. She can usually be found with a cup of coffee in the library or at LJs. On-campus, she is a member of the Alpha Gamma Phi sorority, works in the Biology Department and at Cup and Chaucer, and is involved in the Phelps Scholars Program. In her free time, she enjoys reading, yoga, writing, hammocking, photography, and spending time with friends.

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