Biden’s COVID adviser says U.S. should distribute vaccine globally before all Americans get it

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One of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisers has recommended that the United States dole out vaccines for the virus to other countries even before every American has an opportunity to get one.

Dr. Zeke Emanuel, an oncologist and a key architect of Obamacare who is one of 10 people Biden named to the advisory board, suggested that the U.S. and other countries should not hoard vaccines for their own people.

In September, he co-authored a paper encouraging government officials to follow the “Fair Priority Model,” which recommends a “fair international distribution of vaccine” instead of what he and the other co-authors deemed “vaccine nationalism.”

According to the paper, the model calls for allowing countries that produce COVID-19 vaccines to keep enough on hand to reach herd immunity thresholds (“Rt below 1). Above that, the model calls for the distribution of vaccines internationally, which would mean either selling or giving away doses to other countries before they are available for everyone in the producing country, Emanuel told Scientific American.

“Reasonable national partiality does not permit retaining more vaccine than the amount needed to keep the rate of transmission (Rt) below 1, when that vaccine could instead mitigate substantial COVID-19–related harms in other countries that have been unable to keep Rt below 1 through ongoing public-health efforts,” the Science magazine article headlined “An ethical framework for global vaccine allocation” argued.

“Associative ties only justify a government’s giving some priority to its own citizens, not absolute priority,” Emanuel and his co-authors noted.

President Donald Trump’s administration has already pledged to share U.S.-produced vaccines with countries around the world but only after American needs are first met. Also, the Trump administration had vowed not to cooperate with the World Health Organization to get those vaccines distributed after withdrawing from the group earlier this year over pandemic policy disagreements.

“Our first priority of course is to develop and produce enough quantity of safe and effective FDA-approved vaccines and therapeutics for use in the United States,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a visit to Taiwan in August.

“But we anticipate having a capacity that, once those needs are satisfied, those products would be available in the world community according to fair and equitable distributions that we would consult in the international community on,” he added.

Earlier this year, Congress approved almost $10 billion for the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed,” established to work with private firms to quickly develop a COVID-19 vaccine and distribute it within the U.S.

Drugmaker Pfizer announced Monday it, along with German pharmaceutical company BioNTech, had developed a vaccine that successfully prevented infection 90 percent of the time during its phase 3 clinical trial.

“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” said Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chairman and chief executive. “We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen.”

In their paper, Emanuel and co-authors said they opposed a WHO proposal to distribute vaccines around the world at a level that is proportional to the population of each country. They also argued against the belief that a high death rate could be curbed by handing out vaccines to countries based on “the number of frontline health care workers, the proportion of population over 65, and the number of people with comorbidities.”

Biden’s choice of Emanuel as a COVID-19 board member has already come under fire. In 2014, he published a story in The Atlantic in which he said he only wants to live to be 75 years old, though Americans today are living longer, more productive lives than at any time in our history.

He also raised eyebrows in April when he called for a complete 18-month lockdown of the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Realistically, COVID-19 will be here for the next 18 months or more,” he told MSNBC. “We will not be able to return to normalcy until we find a vaccine or effective medications. The truth is, we have no choice.”

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Jon Dougherty

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