With 200 million vaccines administered, 50% of the U.S. adult population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 32% of adults are fully vaccinated.
Ironically, the Biden administration might have reserved more than enough vaccines for every American, but everyone doesn’t want one.
The Hill recently reported that 25% of Americans are still refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
This parallels what happened during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu outbreak. The U.S. ordered 251 million doses of that vaccine but only distributed 160 million, leaving an unused stockpile that could have benefitted other nations.
Unfortunately, the hoarding of vaccines that might not be used has a direct impact upon the rest of the world. If vaccines are sitting in a warehouse, then others cannot use them.
The COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access program (COVAX) is an international group focused upon the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Over 165 countries joined the initiative, which represents 60% of the global population.
Unfortunately, COVAX reported on April 10 that over 60 of the poorest counties have yet to receive the round of vaccines for those who have received their first shot.
In poor counties, less than one in 500 people have gotten a single dose, compared to around one in four people in wealthier nations. This is a huge disparity.
To assist in closing this gap, the World Health Organization has pleaded with rich countries to help supply 10 million doses so that COVAX can ensure that people in every country can be fully vaccinated.
Unfortunately, COVAX lacks the political clout or monetary resources to compete with affluent nations over available vaccine doses. It is a striking contrast when you watch the U.S. administer 3 million doses a day, and COVAX is able to acquire less than that in a month.
More is being overlooked than just vaccination access.
We are seeing new COVID-19 strains in Africa, South America and Asia.
France recently exceeded 100,000 COVID-19 related deaths, making them the eighth nation to do so.
Japan is being attacked by a new surge of cases as well while Brazil is inflicted with 3,000 deaths a day.
In Italy, funeral directors are expressing concerns that bodies are piling up while India is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths – recording 234,000 new cases and 1,341 deaths on Saturday, April 17, alone.
The problem is not just a surge in new cases or the emergence of new variants. Just like the beginning of the pandemic, the issue now is health care resources and supplies.
On April 15, the Associated Press reported that Brazil, one of the countries hardest hit with new strains of COVID-19, was running out of vital supplies.
A physician at Albert Schweitzer Municipal Hospital in Rio de Janeiro told AP that they were having to intubate patients without necessary drugs.
This is causing a shortage of medical supplies, oxygen tanks and hospital beds. “The whole healthcare system has collapsed, and doctors are exhausted,” according to a physician who works at a private hospital in Bandra, Mumbai.
As the virus continues to surge globally, there will be a need for health care resources to be mobilized quickly and sent to wealthy and poor nations alike. Distribution has to focus on hot spots, not wealth and power.
If wealthy nations continue to hoard medical supplies and vaccines, then the virus will gain a deeper and deeper foothold in the counties least able to fight it. In turn, this will create the possibility for yet another global surge and an unimaginable death toll.
It is time for wealthy nations like the U.S. to move beyond an “America first” mindset.
Patriotism has its place and can make positive contributions to health crises by encouraging citizens to stand together in solidarity, united in facing the challenges together.
Nationalism, however, turns our focus inward, creating a scarcity mindset that leads to resource hoarding.
The COVID-19 pandemic, like the N1H1 flu pandemic, is not a national crisis like an earthquake or hurricane. It is a global crisis.
Beating the virus in one corner of the globe does not ensure safety. If the virus propagates itself anywhere, then it is a threat to people everywhere.
By ignoring the needs of poor and isolated countries – or, worse, hoarding vaccines and medical supplies – wealthier nations like the U.S. hinder the global efforts to get COVID-19 under control.
It leaves pockets of the virus that will fester and swell just like a small untreated wound. Ultimately, this will lead to yet another wave that will sweep the globe or, worse, help generate a variant that is vaccine resistant.
By stockpiling health care resources, we are giving ourselves a false sense of security and not effectively fighting the virus.
We need to step back and take a global approach that is informed by the latest data and the best scientific minds. This is the most compassionate and effective method moving forward.
In short, even a moral egoist has to admit that it is in our best long-term interest to help underprivileged countries because, in turn, we are helping ourselves.
Senior Staff Chaplain and Clinical Ethicist at the Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.