Other’s opinion: U.S. can do more to share COVID vaccine with the world

Published 6:30 am Saturday, April 10, 2021

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The Free Press, Mankato

Few would argue with President Joe Biden’s pledge to ensure there are enough COVID-19 vaccine doses available to get the country to the point the pandemic is under better control as it works to reach the final goal of putting coronavirus behind us.

But it is also time to focus on ways to help poorer countries in the world gain access to vaccine.

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As all Americans over age 16 are now eligible for the vaccine, more than 130 poor countries have yet to administer a single dose, according to UNICEF. That leaves 2.5 billion people with no access to vaccine.

The New York Times reports that wealthier countries have bought up 90 percent of the vaccine supply.

America and other wealthy nations have reasons to assist. Wealthy countries have a moral obligation to help ease the inequality of vaccine availability.

Late last month, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, condemned wealthy countries for allowing the deaths of high-risk people in poorer countries.

“Countries that are now vaccinating younger, healthy people at low risk of disease are doing so at the cost of the lives of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups in other countries,” he said.

There are also practical reasons for America to help. Being a world leader that helps expand vaccine availability brings respect and influence around the world. So far, Russia and China have filled that role as they step up to help supply vaccine to other countries.

Biden has promised to help an Indian company produce about 1 billion doses by the end of 2022, and he has said America will increase the amount of donated doses to other countries.

Even more helpful would be pushing to allow manufacturers in other countries to get the patent licensing agreements they need to ramp up vaccine production. Drug companies usually control the intellectual property tied to making vaccines.

But the World Trade Organization, Doctors Without Borders and others are calling on the Biden administration to suspend patent protections on the vaccines to boost supplies in other countries. It’s a step that would do much more than simply donating extra vaccine supplies to other countries.

America will not be safe from the COVID virus until the world is safe. We need to do more to reach the goal of safeguarding those in poorer countries.