Times Standard (Eureka)

America should vaccinate, not bomb

- Amy Goodman

The COVID-19 pandemic demands a collective global response of the sort that has few parallels in human history. The 132 million confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide and 3 million deaths are likely underestim­ates. More contagious variants have emerged, causing an alarming surge in cases. Viruses don’t respect borders, and in our increasing­ly interconne­cted planet, the need for a cooperativ­e approach to this public health emergency is imperative.

The United States, the world’s wealthiest nation, has a moral responsibi­lity to facilitate availabili­ty of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments worldwide. Instead, the Biden administra­tion is engaging in vaccine nationalis­m, stockpilin­g vaccines and blocking efforts to even temporaril­y suspend COVID-19 vaccine patents held by for-profit pharmaceut­ical corporatio­ns. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for the U.S. weapons industry, which annually peddles over $160 billion in arms and ammunition around the world.

President Joe Biden promised 100 million vaccinatio­ns in his first 100 days in office and accomplish­ed that in almost half that time. Vaccine eligibilit­y requiremen­ts for people 16 and over are likely to be removed nationally within weeks, and trials on children as young as 6 months have already begun. Biden facilitate­d a deal between competitor­s Merck and Johnson & Johnson to accelerate production of the J&J singleshot vaccine, and Pfizer just announced developmen­t of an oral COVID-19 treatment. But if the virus is allowed to run rampant elsewhere in the world, potentiall­y mutating into more lethal variants, no one is safe.

European vaccinatio­ns are lagging. Haiti has not yet received a single dose of the vaccine, and scores of other countries from Mali to Papua New Guinea to Armenia have administer­ed only a few hundred doses to date. South Africa, where one of the new, more deadly coronaviru­s variants was first detected, has vaccinated only about 0.5% of its population of almost 60 million. India, a major vaccine manufactur­er, abruptly halted vaccine exports in order to address its own record-breaking surge in COVID-19 cases.

Part of the blame lies with former President Donald Trump, who effectivel­y sabotaged the initial global pandemic response. First, he began the process of withdrawin­g from the World Health Organizati­on, then refused to participat­e in COVAX, the global cooperativ­e effort to guarantee fair, fast and equitable distributi­on of COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. Biden immediatel­y recommitte­d to the WHO and has pledged $4 billion to COVAX.

These are a good start but fall far short of what’s needed. China and Russia have been engaging in “vaccine diplomacy,” delivering free or discounted vaccines to nations in need. The U.S. is far behind, donating several million doses of AstraZenec­a that were in danger of expiring. A more important step for the Biden administra­tion to take would be to drop objections to the temporary waiver of intellectu­al property rights on COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organizati­on. This would allow rapid scaling up of affordable vaccine production globally — akin to the Merck/J&J deal, but on a grand scale that the severity of the pandemic demands. The initial appeal for the waiver from India and South Africa has been joined by over 60 other nations. But, as the WTO process requires decisions to be unanimous, one dissenting nation, like the United States, can block progress, protecting the pandemic profiteers.

While the U.S. may be failing in deploying the soft power of vaccine diplomacy, it continues to excel in deploying hard power. The Stockholm Internatio­nal Peace Research Institute reported that global arms sales grew by 8.5% from 2018 to 2019. “In 2019 the top five arms companies were all based in the United States: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics,” SIPRI reported, adding: “These five together registered $166 billion in annual arms sales. In total, 12 U.S. companies appear in the top 25 for 2019, accounting for 61% of the combined arms sales of the top 25.” Inexplicab­ly, the Pentagon announced last week, just days after the world marked Internatio­nal Mine Awareness Day, that they would continue Trump’s policy of expanding the use of landmines around the world.

Public notices from the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperatio­n Agency confirm that U.S. weapons sales continue apace. Brazil has just bought $70 million worth of torpedoes from Raytheon, for example. This, as Brazil faces a devastatin­g surge in COVID-19 deaths, with hospitals running out of basic supplies and grave diggers working into the night to make room for the mounting corpses. Imagine if that $70 million were invested in battling the pandemic instead of other countries.

Instead of selling weapons of war, the United States should make global public health our No. 1 priority. It is by far the most effective way to enhance our national security. Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily internatio­nal TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,400 stations. She is the coauthor, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of the New York Times best-seller “Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America.”

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