US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that Gayle Smith has been appointed the United States’ global COVID-19 coordinator, and added that the US hoped to work with global partners to ensure there is enough vaccine supply globally.
The Joe Biden administration is trying to recreate the glory of the Lend Lease Act era, when the US aided its World War II allies with ammunition, food, and other products to strengthen its grip on them. This time, the US is providing vaccines. In other words, although Blinken denies it, Smith’s appointment is for political purposes, an afterthought following the US’ earlier refusal to help other countries with vaccines. But while the US catered to its own need first, its global image took a beating.
Now, the US is trying to make amends by providing vaccines for other countries. Yet that is not going to be an easy task. The US government is yet to honor its promise of donating $2 billion to COVAX, a World Health Organization-backed global initiative to provide vaccines for developing countries.
Even the US’ neighbors Canada and Mexico are yet to get the promised doses of vaccines, as the Biden administration seems to be following its predecessor’s “America first” policy. Maybe, Blinken wants to correct its course. But how?
It is illusive to expect the two kinds of vaccines being used in the US to be of much help in other countries. The Moderna plant does not have a high vaccine production capacity, and Pfizer’s vaccine needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, which could prove to be a hindrance in many of the developing countries.
There have been reports of the Biden administration trying to let India produce vaccines for the US. However, India, which is itself facing a vaccine shortage, may not be able to help the US much. Besides, even if it takes up the task, the world might not trust India for the delivery.
Instead of indulging in vaccine nationalism or competition, the US could do better by just trying to help those in need.