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U.S. and EU vaccine deals raise fears of ‘vaccine nationalism’

Scott Tong Jul 31, 2020
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President Donald Trump tours a North Carolina lab making components for a potential vaccine. The U.S. has struck deals with drug companies for access to coronavirus vaccines in development. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

U.S. and EU vaccine deals raise fears of ‘vaccine nationalism’

Scott Tong Jul 31, 2020
Heard on:
President Donald Trump tours a North Carolina lab making components for a potential vaccine. The U.S. has struck deals with drug companies for access to coronavirus vaccines in development. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
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The Trump administration today announced a blockbuster, $2.1 billion vaccine-development deal with two drug companies, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline. If the vaccine venture succeeds, Americans would get dibs on 100 million vaccine doses. Hours later, the European Union struck a similar arrangement with Sanofi, in exchange for up to 300 million doses.

Is vaccine development becoming a situation in which each country is on its own? If so, what does that mean for the rest of the world?

At a biotech industry conference last month, Peter Marks, director of the Food and Drug Administration division that reviews vaccines, defended U.S. plans to strike individual deals with drug companies.

“In a sense it’s an oxygen-mask-on-an-airplane analogy,” Marks told the BIO Digital 2020 conference June 8. “The oxygen masks are just deployed. You’re gonna put on your own first and then help others. We want to help others as quickly as possible.”

Critics, however, argued the analogy doesn’t hold up.

“The masks will only drop in first class,” said Tom Bollyky, director of global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. “And it will leave everyone else waiting some time to get access to them.”

Bollyky said he worries that rich countries monopolizing vaccine doses may inoculate their entire populations, including low-risk citizens, before sharing supplies with other countries.

In the spring, many countries, including Taiwan, China and Germany, did hoard supplies of ventilators, masks and medical machine parts.

“This has actually been the history of all pandemics,” said Dr. Rebecca Weintraub, assistant professor of global health at Harvard Medical School. She endorsed an alternative model to each country going its own way.

The group Covax, organized by the World Health Organization and other international groups, aggregates investments from governments, funds vaccine companies and plans to share vaccine supplies with all participating countries.

“We can pool the investment,” Weintraub said. “We can protect the front-line workforce and those at risk. Those discussions of allocations can be done at a global table versus at the national level.”

China, India and the U.S. have not joined Covax.

Experts warn that if vaccine nationalism takes hold, it could backfire: Countries that are left out could block exports of vaccine syringes, vials and other components critical to saving lives.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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