With COVID-19, the Global South Again Bears the Crisis Burden

Saana Allie

Saana Allie is one of those obnoxiously proud New Yorkers who needed a minute to consider Washington, DC home but it’s finally happened. Her passions are policy, politics, culture and about 47 creative projects she swears she will finish soon. Saana holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations and International Economics from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and also a pretty great TikTok account. She is most proud of having a 100% success rate sorting people into the appropriate Hogwarts House.

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17 Responses

  1. Kid Charlemagne
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    says:

    Thanks for writing this. I am actually from the Caribbean and have watched in bewilderment as the US sits on vaccines it probably will not use (Rasta-Zeneca as they call it in Jamaica) while countries they could easily help are appealing for shots to give their populations. This is even more bizarre, because the Caribbean is where Americans go to vacation; these are places right in the backyard of the US; these are small populations that rely almost entirely on tourism.
    When it comes to larger countries – India particularly tragic because it is crucial to the rollout of vaccines for most of the planet – it is pretty depressing watching countries report having 4 or 5 times the vaccines they need (according to the Washington Post the US will have an oversupply of some 300 million vaccine doses by July). plus ça change…Report

  2. Jaybird
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    says:

    Reading this, I have the Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics scratching at the back of my head again.

    The essay’s precis shows up in the 2nd paragraph: “The Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics says that when you observe or interact with a problem in any way, you can be blamed for it. At the very least, you are to blame for not doing more. Even if you don’t make the problem worse, even if you make it slightly better, the ethical burden of the problem falls on you as soon as you observe it. In particular, if you interact with a problem and benefit from it, you are a complete monster.”

    For the record, I think that the US should be exporting a heck of a lot more vaccines than it is. I think that the J&J pause (for CAMAB persons, anyway) was morally outrageous. The fact that we were sitting on millions of AZ shots and just not doing anything with them? That choice only makes sense in a world where the incentives line up so that you get ignored for 5,000,000 people dying from the disease and punished for 100 people dying from the shot.

    I think that the US should be doing more to get more doses into more arms into the 3rd World. It’s incredibly disappointing that we have millions of doses that we’re just sitting on.

    But I am very glad that we have millions of doses in the first place. I’d like there to be tens and tens and tens of millions of doses in less than a year the next time something awful happens.Report

  3. Pinky
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    says:

    It sounds like we could share the tech without any detriment to the US. If so, we should do so.

    The US has lost twice as many people as India, and until it becomes clear that the next dose of vaccine produced won’t improve the situation in the US, I can understand not sharing any vaccine.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Pinky
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      says:

      …until it becomes clear that the next dose of vaccine produced won’t improve the situation in the US, I can understand not sharing any vaccine.

      SWAG: three weeks. By the first week of June, a significant amount of the vaccine being produced for US delivery will expire before it goes in US arms.Report

      • InMD in reply to Michael Cain
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        says:

        Seems to me like it’s just a matter of number crunching. We should still prioritize ourselves at the plateau rate. Resell or donate the excess. Where expiration is a concern send them to Mexico or the Caribbean so they have the best chance of being used before time runs out.Report

  4. Susara Blommetjie
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    says:

    As a South African, I get that the Global North (if I can use that term in contrast to the Global South) has paid for the development of these medical miracles and has thus earned the right of first access to them. I get that charity starts at home. More fundamentally, the Global North have created societies where the development of these miracles is possible. Us Africans and Indians and South Americans have messed up our societies so we can’t develop vaccines ourselves, so that’s on us.

    But that holds only up to a point. Canada has now authorised the Pfizer shots for 12-16 year olds. Seriously? To keep these life-saving medications for people at extremely low risk of harm, while the rest of us are desperate to even get our front-line health workers vaccinated?

    It’s like, imagine a bunch of rich kids decide to use their money to set up a kiosk at school selling food. Ok, they did the hard work and bought the stock so if at first they stand in front of the queue to buy it’s understandable. But after a while the rich kids aren’t really hungry any more, now they’re just stuffing themselves. But they are still not allowing the hungry poor kids to buy food.

    And please note; we do not ask for handouts. We will pay with dollars as good any other.Report

  5. Jaybird
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    says:

    The US Ambassador Katherine Tai has called for the release of IP protection.

    Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Looking at a bunch of literature with my old instant-expert systems guy hat on, here’s the problem. The secret sauce for the mRNA vaccines, the most important piece of the product, is the materials and methods for encapsulating the mRNA in lipid nanoparticles (LNPs). There are any number of university or commercial medical labs in the world that can crank out the mRNA in job lots. There are (almost) literally a handful who can wrap it in LNPs. And not many more who can produce the precursor chemicals for those LNPs. The weird supply chains look like they do for reasons related to that. Having licked the problem, protected as trade secrets not patents, Pfizer and Moderna are getting ready to crank out all sorts of experimental vaccines: better flu, HIV, maybe the common cold.

      I’m glad it’s not my decision. It is one thing for the administration to say, “Show the world how to do the LNP thing.” It’s another to say, “Trust us that we will go to the wall in the future to punish anyone, anywhere in the world, who uses it to wrap anything except Covid-19 mRNA.”Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain
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        says:

        I admit that my assumption was that they were doing something that was reverse-engineerable by sufficiently smart and funded individuals… tied to the whole “we had only recently started testing this stuff on mice” thing.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          They are. You just left out an important qualifier on “sufficiently smart and funded”: in a timely fashion. Process stuff is always hard. These lipids, solvents, and other reagents, introduced in the proper portions, in the proper order, under the proper conditions, filtered in various ways to yield what is necessary for the next step… As opposed to going to Moderna or Pfizer and saying, “If we give you another $20B up front, how fast can you produce a billion doses for India? For Africa? $40B?” My intuition is that Moderna and Pfizer can produce all the vaccine the world needs faster than they can teach (and equip) the Global South to do it.

          The OP raises an interesting open-ended question about teaching the Global South to produce their own vaccines the next time. I would add to that “keeping them ready if the next time is 20 years away.”Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain
            Ignored
            says:

            Pfizer and Moderna came up with (more or less) the same thing, though, right?

            I thought that the main difference between the two shots was how much of a payload of the active ingredient they delivered (the google says 30micrograms vs. 100micrograms). But, like, they’re both doing the mRNA thing.

            Which means that it’s independently findable with sufficient funding.

            Which tells me that if this process was released to the Global South, the problem would be in making a factory that could make it. Or make the four factories required to make it, as well as a fifth factory to make sterile syringes that could handle being jostled by being driven on a potholey road.

            I mean, I get the feeling that Moderna could release the trade secrets *TODAY*.

            And we still wouldn’t have anybody but Pfizer and Moderna making mRNA vaccines in 2031.

            Is that off-base?Report

            • Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird
              Ignored
              says:

              I mean, I get the feeling that Moderna could release the trade secrets *TODAY*…. And we still wouldn’t have anybody but Pfizer and Moderna making mRNA vaccines in 2031. Is that off-base?

              China certainly would, as a matter of prestige, like their space station. Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea are paranoid enough about SARS and other nasty respiratory viruses that they probably would. India if they they think they can make a buck at it. Israel is almost certainly capable, and supplying Africa with vaccines for Marburg, Ebola, etc would seem like a good foreign policy decision for them.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Michael Cain
        Ignored
        says:

        ” It’s another to say, “Trust us that we will go to the wall in the future to punish anyone, anywhere in the world, who uses it to wrap anything except Covid-19 mRNA.” ”

        You’re assuming that the people calling for rescinding of IP protection on the COVID-19 vaccine think that anything involving healthcare should have any protection. Reconsider that assumption.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to DensityDuck
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          says:

          I admit that I’m taking, “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections…” at face value. The question of where in the world IP regarding health care innovation might be safe is a discussion for a different time.Report

  6. Kazzy
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    says:

    I keep hearing the US is well on our way to having a billion doses. Is that 1B cumulative (administered plus on hand) or 1B on hand? Either way, my back of the envelope math tells me that’s more than we need. Like way more. And, yes, maybe we will need a booster at some point but… if we can get to 1B in 6 months we could get to like, 2B in 12 months, right?Report

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