The White House has announced that the United States of America will not join the international efforts to produce an effective and safe vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic, because it is being led by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi, the vaccine alliance, are leading the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) Facility, with the global goal to produce a successful vaccine as quickly as clinical trials will permit, secure doses for all countries, and distribute them equitably.
More than 170 countries are currently in talks to be involved with Covax, but the US will not be one of them after it announced on Tuesday it won’t be part of the global effort to fight Covid-19 due to the involvement of the WHO.
“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,” said Judd Deere, a spokesman for the White House, reports The Washington Post.
This may not come as a surprise to many, but it is a worrying turn of events.
Trump's relationship with the WHO has soured over the last few months. He initially praised the WHO's early efforts, but when it became clear early on in the pandemic that he and his administration had severely underestimated the severity of the situation, Trump tried to shift the blame of his slow response onto the international organization, even going as far as withdrawing US funding to the global health body. The president lied in a publicly shared letter that the WHO had ignored early reports about the virus published in The Lancet, claims that have been publicly refuted by the prestigious medical journal because it hadn't published any such reports.
Reactions from the medical research world are in general “disappointed but not surprised” by this latest news, with experts concerned about how this might hinder global efforts to fight the pandemic and how this will affect the American people. The US has been the top country for the highest number of Covid-19 cases and deaths (6 million and 185,752, respectively so far) since March.
“This is fairly par for the course when it comes to President Trump. He has demonstrated time and time again that multilateralism is not something he is willing to engage in – pulling from the WHO, the JPCOA, the Paris Agreement, etc – ‘America First’ really means ‘America Only’,” Dr Joshua Moon, research fellow in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School, said. “On a general tack, however, this is not just a move that harms the Covax agreement but harms America itself.”
It appears the main issue the White House has cited is the multi-layered level of regulation for the approval of vaccines in the Covax portfolio. This is designed to guarantee that any vaccines are indeed safe and effective, and would see the WHO making that decision, with countries then regulating the vaccines within the portfolio at their discretion.
“This extra step, requiring WHO approval of the vaccine, flies in the face of the Trump administration’s seeming desire to give Emergency Use Authorisations to a Covid-19 vaccine before the election,” Dr Moon said. “This is all to say nothing of the moral question of sharing vaccines and ensuring equitable access, which sadly seems to be missing.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the world. Over 26 million people have contracted the virus and 864,000 have died at the time of writing. A united global effort will increase the chances of finding an effective way to stop the virus. The US is taking a huge gamble going it alone.
[H/T: The Washington Post.]