‘A move that harms America’: Trump condemned after snubbing global coronavirus vaccine scheme

White House refuses to join WHO initiative aiming to provide countries with access to safe and effective vaccines

Samuel Lovett
Wednesday 02 September 2020 21:53 BST
The US president has been accused of fuelling a dangerous scramble for vaccine supplies
The US president has been accused of fuelling a dangerous scramble for vaccine supplies (Getty Images)
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Scientists and health campaigners have condemned the Trump administration after it distanced itself from the World Health Organisation’s global initiative for the development and equitable distribution of a coronavirus vaccine.

More than 150 countries are engaging with the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (Covax) – a multilateral WHO scheme aimed at working with manufacturers to provide countries with access to safe and effective vaccines, once they are licensed and approved.

This approach would allow nations to take advantage of a portfolio of potential vaccines to ensure their citizens are quickly covered by whichever ones are deemed effective.

However, the US government has refused to cooperate with the international initiative, opting to go it alone while placing billions’ worth of advance orders on the most promising vaccines currently in development.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also indicated its willingness to authorise a coronavirus vaccine before large-scale phase three clinical trials are complete, raising further concern that the Trump administration is positioning itself to hoard supplies of promising doses.

“The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organisations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organisation and China,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement on Tuesday.

“This president will spare no expense to ensure that any new vaccine maintains our own FDA’s gold standard for safety and efficacy, is thoroughly tested, and saves lives,” he said.

The move has drawn widespread criticism, with experts warning that Donald Trump was pursuing a dangerous strategy of vaccine nationalism that endangered the lives of American citizens.

Global Justice Now, which campaigns on issues of trade, health care and justice in the developing world, warned that Mr Trump’s approach was fuelling a “global scramble by rich countries to hoard potential vaccines” that would “deplete global stocks” for lower income nations.

Heidi Chow, a senior policy manager, told The Independent: “Donald Trump is racing ahead with his vaccine nationalism strategy and so it’s no surprise that he is refusing to join international vaccine efforts.

“The fastest way to end this pandemic is through global collaboration and governments should be focusing on multilateral solutions to maximise global supplies while ensuring a fair allocation for all countries based on public health needs.”

Alex Harris, the Wellcome Trust’s head of global policy, said: “It is disappointing that the US has decided not to join Covax. The only way we’re going to end this pandemic is if countries work together.”

The WHO has warned against the threat of vaccine nationalism, with directer general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus arguing that “for the world to recover faster, it has to recover together, because it’s a globalised world: the economies are intertwined.”

Dr Joshua Moon, a research fellow in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, said that Mr Trump’s decision to snub Covax was “fairly par for the course”.

“He has demonstrated time and time again that multilateralism is not something he is willing to engage in … and that ‘America First’ really means ‘America Only,’” said Dr Moon.

”On a general tack, however, this is not just a move that harms the Covax agreement but harms America itself. Without equitable access to a vaccine (if and when it is ready), the spread of Sars-CoV-2 will likely remain active elsewhere and repeatedly be imported again and again into the US.”

Dr Suerie Moon, co-director of the Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, said America’s failure to participate “in any sort of multilateral effort to secure vaccines” marked a “real blow”.

“The behaviour of countries when it comes to vaccines in this pandemic will have political repercussions beyond public health,” she said.

The WHO has said that even governments making deals with individual vaccine makers would benefit from joining Covax because it would provide back-up vaccines in case the ones being secured through bilateral deals with manufacturers aren’t successful.

Earlier this week, the European Commission said it would contribute to the initiative, while the WHO said Germany had joined the pact.

The Commission, announcing that it would provide 400 million euros in guarantees, did not clarify whether EU states would acquire shots through the WHO scheme.

Mr Trump has previously criticised the WHO’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, accusing it of being too focused on China and issuing bad advice. In May, the president announced that the US was cutting ties with the organisation.

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