Just Pay for Everyone’s Vaccine

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June 13, 2021 9:47 a.m.

TPM Reader JL flags an interesting article in The Economist about the costs of a global vaccination program. The article is paywalled. But the key passage is tweeted here: “To get 70% of the planet’s population inoculated by April, the IMF calculates, would cost just $50 billion. The cumulative economic benefit by 2025, in terms of increased global output, would be $9 trillion, to say nothing of the many lives that would be saved.”

The Economist titles the article “The West is passing up the opportunity of the century” and looks primarily at economic impact. What occurs to me is more geopolitical impact. President Biden recently pledged 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. China meanwhile is shipping abroad large allotments of its two vaccines. Until very recently most of the effort to vaccinate the world’s poorer countries has been done by China. But the two main vaccines produced in China appear to be significantly less effective than the two mRNA vaccines widely used in the US. There is also less robust data available on them from clinical trials.

In any case, relative to the scale of the spending the US is now doing and the vast price of the COVID catastrophe purely in economic terms – let along human suffering – the price tag for vaccinating the globe is quite low. We get hung up on intellectual property rights. But given how intractable those debates are my preference would to simply buy the vaccines under the current intellectual property regime and vaccinate everyone. It seems basically certain that it will pay for itself many times over purely in terms of US economic growth and the public diplomacy impact is almost incalculable.

The globe is in the midst of a contest between autocracy and liberal democracy, and that unfortunately mirrors a similar contest within the United States. The two most effective vaccines were developed by US and German countries with technology largely developed in the United States. We should lean into that fact. If Great Power competition isn’t your thing then at least there are worse things Great Powers can do than competing to save lives by vaccinating the global population.

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