World is upset with Biden’s vaccine nationalism

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — If anyone was naive enough to think that that U.S. President Joe Biden would significantly deviate from former President Donald Trump’s “America First” stance, particularly when faced with a crisis, they’ve been rudely awakened amid the global vaccination campaign against COVID-19. Citizens of other countries look to America’s prolific vaccination campaign with envy as their own governments attempt to mitigate vaccine supply and logistical snafus by clamping down yet again on fundamental freedoms.

Whether current vaccines remain effective against future forms of the virus — and for how long — remains unclear, but the vaccines have nonetheless given those who have been hiding in their basement for the past 14 months the confidence to venture out and reclaim their daily lives.

Others haven’t waited on the vaccine and have chosen to simply get on with it — or they caught COVID-19, recovered and now possess natural immunity. But most governments aren’t keen to take those people into account in articulating their reopening strategies. As far as they’re concerned, mass vaccination is the only policy they’re willing to consider in reopening. And that’s the message they’re sending to citizens: that you can’t expect a full return of a functional society until there has been adequate vaccination. Here in France, across Europe and in my native Canada, we’re all far off that mark.

Not so in America. Biden has stuck to Trump’s nationalist playbook on vaccines. Trump’s administration pre-purchased the vaccines and made sure their U.S.-based manufacturers were contractually obligated to fulfill American orders before exporting abroad. Biden has chosen to stay the course set by Trump.

Earlier this month, Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the world’s largest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India, begged Biden via Twitter to “lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S. so that vaccine production can ramp up,” implying that the U.S. is hoarding vaccine ingredients. The request is particularly tragic given the gravity of the current situation in India, which appears to have become the new global epicenter of the pandemic.

Biden has responded to some of the pleas for self-sacrificing generosity, notably those of North American allies Canada and Mexico, by loaning some British-made AstraZeneca doses to those nations. AstraZeneca vaccinations had been briefly suspended in Europe due to concerns about blood clots developing, and that vaccine has yet to be approved for use in the U.S. anyway. How generous, I guess.

But really, what did leaders of those countries expect? Have they never taken a plane ride? Did they not pay attention to the flight attendants’ pre-flight lectures instructing passengers that if there’s an emergency and the oxygen masks drop down from above, you’re supposed to secure your own mask first before trying to assist anyone else with theirs?

The pandemic has dispelled any naive notion of global solidarity. Nations look out for their own economic interests first and foremost. Even when they talk a globalist game, it isn’t for the benefit of other countries’ citizens, but rather to maximize profits for their own corporations. Does anyone think that shopping around globally for the most inexpensive producer of technological components, trying to find the jurisdiction that will pay people as little as possible to produce them, would be a boon to foreign workers making pennies an hour? Or is it done for the benefit of corporate shareholders, who are able to maximize their dividends thanks to lower production costs?

The big difference between this example and U.S. vaccine nationalism is that with the vaccines, it’s not a corporation acting out of self-interest, but rather a government seeking to protect its national economy. And it’s not just a few shareholders who stand to benefit, but every American.

Good for America. It’s nice that U.S. leaders are looking out for their citizens’ best interests, which for once coincide with their own. As for the world leaders in Europe and elsewhere who are looking at America and wondering why there isn’t more help forthcoming — what the heck did you expect? Wake up. You had one job: to protect the interests of your own people. Instead, you assumed that America would sacrifice its own interests to help paper over your own failures to properly anticipate and invest.

Let this be a painful lesson to other countries on the advantages of self-sufficiency and the myth of globalization. America’s affinity for global benevolence ends where its own economic interests begin. Every other country’s should, too.