A healthcare worker holds coronavirus vaccines at a vaccination center in El Paso, Texas, May 6, 2021. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)
President Biden has pledged that the United States will donate 500 million Pfizer vaccines to help boost inoculations across the globe. The plan will primarily target African nations, whose vaccination rates are considerably behind Western countries. The move comes ahead of Biden’s G7 summit as wealthy countries come under fire for the disparities in vaccine availability. While conservatives have understandable concerns about foreign aid, this investment in global health is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Although some news outlets have voiced concerns about racial disparities in vaccination rates, true vaccine inequality is not at home but abroad. Over 40 countries, most of them in the developing world, have not vaccinated even 2 percent of their population. For example, only 1.1 percent of South Africa has gotten a single dose, compared with over 50 percent of Americans. Moreover, of the vaccines that have been distributed, only 1 percent have been administered in Africa.
Adding to the problem is that wealthy nations have robust health infrastructures, meaning the countries that are the poorest often get hit the hardest. Nations such as India are preparing for a “third wave” of COVID-19 cases, and experts are concerned that countries in Africa may be next. It is rarer to hear reports of Africa dealing with uncontrolled pandemic outbreaks, but this is likely due to underreporting. Scientific American interviewed a researcher at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who estimated that about 2 percent of COVID deaths in Khartoum, Sudan, were correctly attributed to the virus.
The current plan to purchase and distribute 500 million vaccines is estimated to cost around $3.5 billion, a comparatively low price tag. Each shot will cost $7, less than half what it was to vaccinate each American. The rollout plan will be delegated to NGO organizations that are based in Africa and have expertise in the area, which should help reduce fraud and abuse. Thus, not only is the U.S’s plan to address vaccine shortages a worthy humanitarian goal, but it’s also achievable at a reasonable cost.
There are geopolitical reasons for offering COVID-19 aid, too. For one, distributing vaccines will help reduce surges caused by COVID-19 variants. This is also an opportunity for the United States to foster goodwill with other nations. China and Russia have tried to use vaccine aid as political tools. China, in particular, has engaged in “vaccine diplomacy,” attacking U.S. hesitancy to send doses overseas. China’s potential (likely?) involvement in manufacturing the virus, however, means that this is a prime opportunity for the U.S. to assert its leadership. Not to mention the shoddiness of China’s vaccines, which have failed to prevent COVID resurgences in many of the countries in which they’ve been administered.
As with most things in government, foreign aid has the potential for waste and abuse. Some examples of foreign-aid spending are genuinely ridiculous. We should vet foreign-aid proposals to ensure it has reachable goals, is financially feasible, and helps the United States. The administration’s plan to donate vaccines overseas fits that description. The plan is clear, cost-effective, and a smart political move. It’s also just the right thing to do.
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