Ahead of G-7, vaccine nationalism and pandemic inequality on the agenda

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So far, though, the United States has been seen as one of the chief flag-bearers of vaccine nationalism, stockpiling vaccines so that most of the country may be vaccinated by midsummer, even while other nations lag far behind. A new estimate by the One campaign, a global anti-poverty organization, calculates that even after vaccinating 100 percent of its population, the United States may have as many as 453 million excess doses. The world’s richest countries could donate close to a billion doses of leading vaccines in the near term without jeopardizing plans to inoculate their own populations, One’s analysis suggests.

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told a meeting of the Security Council that, in 130 countries, not a single dose of the vaccine had been delivered. He decried the fact that just 10 countries had dispensed some three-quarters of the world’s doses to date. “At this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community,” he said.

In the past month, global public health advocates have criticized the Biden administration for not doing enough to prioritize the World Health Organization’s Covax Facility, which is aimed at helping poorer countries procure and distribute vaccines for their populations, and for not waiving intellectual property rules that would help other countries mass-produce the coronavirus vaccines developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giants.

The Biden administration is attempting to move beyond the bunkered nationalism of its predecessor. On Thursday, the White House announced that Biden will pledge an initial $2 billion to be used through the Covax Facility, followed by another $2 billion over the next two years after other donors and donor countries honor their own commitments.

In an interview with the Financial Times, French President Emmanuel Macron said the United States and Europe should donate some 5 percent of doses they have ordered to poorer countries. Doing so would both help redress a fundamental global inequity and also push against the soft-power inroads of Russia and China, countries whose own cheaper vaccines are being taken up across the developing world.

“It’s an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality and it’s politically unsustainable too because it’s paving the way for a war of influence over vaccines,” Macron said. “You can see the Chinese strategy, and the Russian strategy too.”

Amid the pandemic, vaccine distribution is hardly the only reflection of emerging inequalities. The economic shocks of a year living with the virus, as readers of Today’s WorldView are all too aware, are still being measured. The pandemic has accelerated a number of “future-of-work” trends, according to a new report from McKinsey Global Institute, with working from home becoming more common, business travel probably never returning to previous levels, and a host of jobs getting phased out by automation, including the expanding use of robots.

In just China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, Britain and the United States, McKinsey forecasts that 100 million workers will need to find different occupations in the coming years. As my colleague Heather Long reported, sectors like the restaurant industry, hotels and retail may never fully recover.

That belies the resilience of professional roles in big cities, where myriad workers have been able to keep their jobs and maintain their productivity away from offices. New research from the OECD found uninterrupted growth in remote-working jobs in London, Paris, Berlin and Madrid — an outcome whose downstream impact increases the risks of “aggravated urban inequality” in these capitals and other major metropolitan areas.

Beyond inequities within countries, other gaps are widening between transnational communities. The pandemic led to a deeper drop in global remittances — that is, the money sent back by immigrants to their home countries — than during the 2009 financial crisis. The phenomenon varies country to country, with nations such as Mexico, India and China actually bucking the trend. But, overall, analysts predict potentially devastating consequences in the months to come for countries whose economies significantly depend on these cash flows.

The continued fall in remittances “places these countries at increased risk of experiencing financial crises that would only prolong their post-pandemic recovery,” warned the Economist Intelligence Unit in a new report. “If one emerging economy experiences such a crisis, financial contagion could ensue and destabilize other developing countries.”

The cascading effects of the pandemic are still taking their toll, with tens of millions more people across the world now in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Aid agencies warn of critical funding shortfalls to meet a greater-than-ever need.

In a letter to G-7 leaders released at the end of last month, numerous humanitarian organizations, U.N. agencies and anti-poverty campaigners called on the world’s wealthy countries to forge a “new global agreement to better predict, prepare and protect the world’s most vulnerable people from the big risks we face.”

“These days if disasters take us by surprise, it’s because we weren’t looking,” said Mark Lowcock, the U.N.’s humanitarian chief and one of the letter’s signatories, in a statement. “As the world grapples with the biggest challenge in a generation, we all need to work smarter, not just harder.”



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