Jon Cohen and Ronald St. John: A Clip from 202: COVID Work
Metta Spencer: Jon Cohen, you have just published an article in Science with Kai Kupferschmidt about an impending surplus of vaccines. Jon Cohen:
Yes, it seems preposterous right now to talk about surplus, given that everyone’s scrambling to get vaccines. But the wealthier countries have made purchase agreements that far exceed their own needs. For example, the US and Canada both have agreements to have over 500% of their populations vaccinated.
There’s something called the COVAX facility that was set up by World Health Organization to ensure access and equity to vaccines around the world for COVID-19.
COVAX is a fantastic idea, but to date it only has committed to rolling out enough vaccine for 247 million doses of two- dose vaccines. By the vaccine that the US has already purchased, come the end of July, we could have 200 million more people vaccinated.
What are we going to do with that vaccine? The US may well donate it to COVAX, but. I quote Nicole Lurie, who was a top official at the Obama administration during 2009 flu epidemic, saying that when the US went to give away that vaccine, a gazillion obstacles surfaced, including the need to fumigate a pallet of vaccine before sending it to the Philippines, which delayed that shipment by two weeks. You have to have these discussions now. It can’t just happen with a snap of the fingers. There are nearly three billion people who could be vaccinated with those surplus vaccines. It’s huge.
Ronald St. John: I agree, Jon. Canada had reserved contracts for vaccinating roughly three times its population. We have no need to withdraw any vaccine from COVAX but we did reserve two million doses, which astounded me.
Cohen: The United States is the hardest hit country in the world by COVID, so there is a reason for vaccine nationalism in the United States. We’ve had more death than anywhere else. Politicians cannot discuss donating vaccine right now. As one person said to me, you cannot say no to governors and yes to other presidents. That’s political suicide.
But we’re going to be awash in vaccine before people realize. Then do we want to vaccinate children in the US? Do we need booster shots for people to combat the variants that are circulating? Is there a durability issue that requires booster shots? Those are all real reasons to reserve some vaccine and not give everything away. St. John: When an essential product like a vaccine becomes in short supply, the international markets collapse and countries scramble under nationalism to get hold of that commodity at all costs. Globalization goes out the window.