US Finally Offers to Send Vaccines Abroad, But Lack of Global Plan Leaves Poorer Nations in Crisis
By Amy Goodman* – Democracy Now!
Goodman interviews Jeffrey Sachs and Fatima Hassan, Part One
and interview to Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable
Development at Columbia University and president of the U.N. Sustainable
Development Solutions Network.
The Biden administration on Thursday announced
that the U.S. will donate 25 million surplus doses of COVID-19 vaccines to
developing countries, pledging to donate a total of 80 million doses by July.
Economist Jeffrey Sachs says rich countries have enough production capacity to
speed up vaccine distribution and immunize the whole world within the next
year. “There’s massive supply, but there’s no plan for allocation,” he says. We
also speak with South African health justice activist Fatima Hassan, who says
the global vaccine imbalance comes down to political will. “Even now countries
are still sitting around a table and talking and having long conversations
instead of figuring out an urgent way to ramp up manufacturing, scale up
production and get as many doses to as many people as possible all over the
AMY GOODMAN: The Biden administration
announced plans to send 25 million COVID vaccine doses to dozens of countries
in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where COVID cases continue to surge. The
majority of the vaccines will be distributed through COVAX, a program backed by
the World Health Organization. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the
administration plans to send a total of 80 million doses by the end of the
JAKE SULLIVAN: We’re sharing them in a wide
range of countries within Latin America and the Caribbean, South and Southeast
Asia, and across Africa in coordination with the African Union. This includes
prioritizing our neighbors here in our hemisphere, including countries like
Guatemala and Colombia, Peru and Ecuador and many others.
AMY GOODMAN: The Biden administration’s
announcement comes just before the president heads to Britain to take part in a
G7 summit. Many public health experts say the U.S. plan falls far short of
what’s needed to address the global crisis, which has killed at least 3.7
million people, though public health researchers say the true toll is likely
approaching 8 million deaths.
According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance,
more than a million COVID deaths have occurred in the past four months, since
the leaders of the G7 failed to collectively back a waiver of intellectual
property rules for COVID vaccines. The United States now backs the waiver, but
other G7 nations and the pharmaceutical industry continue to oppose the waiver.
Based on current vaccination rates, the
People’s Vaccine Alliance estimates it could take 57 years to fully vaccinate
everyone in low-income nations. The New York Times reports
85% of vaccine doses have gone to people in high- and middle-income countries.
On Thursday, the World Health Organization warned, quote, “The threat of a
third wave in Africa is real and rising.” Cases are rising in at least 14
African nations over the past two weeks.
In moment, we’ll go to Cape Town to speak
with Fatima Hassan, a South African human rights lawyer and HIV/AIDS and social
justice activist, founder and director of Health Justice Initiative.
But first we begin with economist Jeffrey
Sachs, the director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia
University, president of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
Jeffrey Sachs is also the author of several books, including The Ages of
Globalization. He led the WHO’s Commission on Macroeconomics and Health from
2000 to 2001.
Jeffrey Sachs, welcome to Democracy Now!
JEFFREY SACHS: Thanks a lot, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Start off by responding to
Biden’s plan to immediately send out 25 million doses, then hit 80 million by
the end of the month.
JEFFREY SACHS: Well, we need a
comprehensive strategy. What’s happened is, the United States is reaching the
target levels of immunization within our own country, but the amount of
production is massive, so there is vaccine available for mass distribution
around the world. The same is happening in Europe, in the U.K., in China.
We need a global plan. We can estimate that
there are hundreds of millions of doses being produced each month now, but
there is no plan for getting them to the people in need. You quoted a study
that said it would take — it could take 57 years. I would put it a
different way. We could get comprehensive immunization around the world
certainly within the next 12 months. Certainly. Let me underscore that. And it
could be even faster, given the scale of production.
But we do not have an allocation plan. We
don’t even have transparency right now. We have the companies that have been
approved. How much are they producing per month? What contracts do they have?
Where are these doses going right now? How should they be allocated across the
world for prioritization? This is basic stuff, but the United States is not
sitting down with China, with Russia, with the European Union, with the United
Kingdom, with the WHO as the overall orchestrator, to make sure that there is a
just, inclusive, rapid, comprehensive coverage. It’s unbelievable, actually,
that we don’t have this sorted out. It’s a matter of a spreadsheet. And it’s a
matter of disclosure and transparency by companies. And it’s a matter of the
United States talking with China, not just yelling at China. And this is what’s
missing right now to this moment.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what would it actually
JEFFREY SACHS: Ah, it would not require
much. It would require some Zoom meetings of senior officials in China, the
United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States,
together with WHO, together with representatives of the producing companies —
Moderna, Pfizer, BioNTech, Sinopharm, Sinovac. How many doses are you producing
per month right now? What are your contractual relations, which may have to be
overridden because the public sector has paid for all of this?
We don’t have that clarity. When I make
rough calculations with my colleagues on this, we have enough production
globally to get comprehensive immunization within the next 12 months. But then,
when I ask WHO or U.S. officials, they say, “Well, we don’t really know exactly
where Pfizer is selling.” Are you kidding? We’re in a global emergency of
unprecedented dimension. How can you not know precisely what is happening? And
why is there no plan to this date?
AMY GOODMAN: And can you explain what the —
JEFFREY SACHS: That’s — that’s the amazing
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what the most
efficient way to do this — not necessarily to send doses from the United
States, but to make a deal, like Biden made with Merck and Johnson &
Johnson? Merck didn’t develop the vaccine; Johnson & Johnson/Janssen did.
But Merck then also helps to reproduce that vaccine, to manufacture that
vaccine. The idea that there are many pharmaceutical companies in the world
that didn’t develop vaccines, but if they’re given the recipe and the means of
— it’s also a lot of hardware — they can help to manufacture these
millions and millions of doses that are needed.
JEFFREY SACHS: That is correct. That’s why
the IP waiver is, in a way, a no-brainer right now, period. But I would say,
even in addition to that, there is a production flow that is underway that is
sufficient to immunize the adult population worldwide comprehensively.
The mistake, Amy, is to think that this is
about markets, that this is about the secret deals that Pfizer-BioNTech can
make with high-paying customers, that there can be no transparency because
that’s a trade secret. This is mind-boggling. Governments have paid for all of
We need a global distribution system for
worldwide safety, not only given the fact that people are dying in surge
countries, but given the fact that variants are developing in surge countries
and spreading worldwide. This requires a systematic political mobilization. But
in the middle of this, we have a crazy kind of Cold War that we’re not speaking
with China about a coordinated strategy. We don’t have the main players at the
table. And these days you don’t even need a table; you need a Zoom. And that’s
all that is needed, actually, to get this done.
Financing can also be arranged. These
companies also should abide by normal pricing. It’s not that this should be —
the word is “free market.” It’s insane. This is not even a market. It’s like
auctioning seats on a lifeboat, the way they’re doing it right now.
In other words, the most basic standards of
management logic are not being applied right now, even though this is the
greatest global emergency in modern history. Why is Jake Sullivan announcing
just what the United States is going to do, without transparency, for July, for
August, for September? And why is he saying it not in the context of a globally
agreed plan, but of the United States announcing some number? Beats me, because
when I look at this — and I’m involved in it day to day — what is needed
is a strategy over six months. Countries need to know when doses are going to
arrive. They need to have supply chains locally ready. They need to train. They
need to have the capacity to get the vaccines into operation.
So, this is an operational challenge. It is
not some market mania, which is the way that it has been treated ’til now, as
if companies have the right and the prerogative to do what they want, sign what
secret contracts they want, without any disclosure. That’s the situation we’re
in right now.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the People’s Vaccine
Alliance reports profits from COVID vaccines have helped at least nine people
become billionaires during the pandemic, with a combined wealth of over $19
billion, more than enough to cover the cost of fully vaccinating all people in
In Part Two Amy Goodman interviews Fatima
Hassan, founder and Director of the Health Justice Initiative in South Africa,
speaking from Cape Town, also in dialogue with Jeffrey Sachs. The World Health Organization has issued a warning
of a sharp increase in COVID-19 in many parts of Africa, cases rising in at
least 14 countries.