Robert Zoellick has served as president of the World Bank, U.S. trade representative and deputy secretary of state. He recently published “America in the World: A History of U.S. Diplomacy and Foreign Policy.”
The United States, Britain and the rest of the Group of Seven cleared a low bar by pledging 1 billion vaccine doses to developing countries in June.
That still means they fell about 10 billion doses short.
The world is in a tight race between vaccinations and variants. Deaths in Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America are soaring, yet only about 2 percent of Africans have been vaccinated. If developed countries cannot help southern continents stem this plague, they will risk the transmission of new variants, more rounds of closures and frustrated citizens who will retaliate in elections. Much of the world will falter further, deepening divides and narrowing the base for economic recovery.
When motivated, the United States can mobilize unparalleled logistics systems. The Biden administration should be building on George W. Bush’s PEPFAR program which has helped defeat HIV/AIDS in Africa. Americans and Africans gained valuable experience in providing incentives, protections for medical safety and “last mile” service to get treatments to those most in need. Entrepreneurial companies are eager to assist: Ghana has turned to Zipline’s system of warehousing, inventory management, unlimited delivery sites and 24-hour drone transport; other African nations are looking to apply this model to their unique conditions.
Third, good intentions need to be backed by money. The International Monetary Fund maintains that roughly 60 percent of the world could be vaccinated by mid-2022 for $50 billion, a small sum compared with the trillions the United States has spent at home. The World Bank and other development agencies should prioritize grants or at least long-term, no-interest financing. The new director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, who has written passionately about victims and the voiceless, now has an opportunity to show what USAID can do. Together, the G-7 should be able to reach the IMF’s 60 percent target to safeguard humankind — and their own citizens.
Finally, we must recognize that biosecurity is much like the transnational threat of climate change; we cannot address it country by country. Pandemics have been increasing in cost and frequency as virologists point to the dangers of wildlife-livestock-human transmission, arising especially in Southeast and South Asia. The acrimonious search for the origins of covid-19 should not block drafting a future agenda. Scientists can map the genomes of potential zoonotic viruses, and health authorities can add surveillance, preventive and rapid response systems.
The G-7 strategy must go beyond merely promising vaccines. An updated plan for the next four months, leading to the late-October Group of 20 Summit in Rome needs four offensives: vaccine production, distribution, financing and biosecurity preparation for future outbreaks. The World Health Organization does not have the capacity to meet these challenges, and the well-intentioned Covax, a worldwide initiative to globally distribute vaccines, cannot get the job done.