Dec 08, 2021
The extra $25 billion that the U.S. Congress is moving to pour into the Pentagon's overflowing coffers is the exact sum researchers say is needed to produce enough coronavirus vaccines to achieve widespread global inoculation and end the pandemic, which is still raging a year after the first vaccine dose was administered.
"With a $25 billion investment in vaccine production, we could vaccinate the world and end the global pandemic."
An analysis conducted by the U.S.-based consumer advocacy group Public Citizen earlier this year found that "with $25 billion in designated funding, BARDA (the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) has the experience to quickly implement a worldwide vaccine manufacturing program."
"It can build on its prior pandemic flu vaccine program," the group noted. "According to the World Health Organization, 19 manufacturers from more than a dozen countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have expressed interest in ramping up mRNA vaccine production."
On Tuesday, however, the U.S. House of Representatives approved $25 billion in additional funding not for vaccine manufacturing but for the Pentagon, which will get a $740 billion overall budget for Fiscal Year 2022 if the sprawling $778 billion National Defense Authorization Act wins approval from the Senate and President Joe Biden.
"It is unconscionable to approve three-quarters of a trillion dollars for war-making, a sum that is $25 billion more than the president even requested," Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said in a statement late Tuesday. "Why is there more money for the military-industrial complex--providing no additional protection for our national security and arguably diminishing it--at the same time the U.S. is refusing to spend the $25 billion needed to make enough additional vaccines to vaccinate the world?"
In August, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.)--who voted against the NDAA on Tuesday--introduced legislation that would cut roughly $10 billion from the Pentagon budget and use the savings to help bolster global vaccination efforts. The bill has gone nowhere in the House.
\u201cWith a $25 billion investment in vaccine production, we could vaccinate the world and end the global pandemic. \n\nThat's roughly 1/30th of the annual Pentagon budget. https://t.co/WoImOUYHE2\u201d— Public Citizen (@Public Citizen) 1613688575
The House's passage of the $778 billion NDAA Tuesday night came as public health campaigners marked the one-year anniversary of the first-ever coronavirus vaccination--outside of clinical trials--by redoubling their calls for world leaders and pharmaceutical companies to immediately share vaccine recipes with the world.
"As we face ever-evolving variants, and other new viruses that may emerge, mRNA vaccines offer a major lifesaving advantage--if only Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech would share the technology with the rest of the world," Alain Alsalhani, vaccines and special projects pharmacist at Doctors Without Borders' Access Campaign, said in a statement Tuseday. "Moderna's and Pfizer-BioNTech's mRNA vaccine technology is well-suited for quickly responding to viral variants, if needed."
"It's an inescapable reality and an almost iron-clad law: the pandemic will not end while vaccine equity is pushed to the margins."
Candice Sehoma, advocacy officer for Doctors Without Borders' Access Campaign in South Africa, added that "low- and middle-income countries must be able to be self-reliant and have ownership in producing Covid-19 medical tools like vaccines for their populations, without having to depend on charity or donations from high-income countries and the pharma industry."
Nearly two years into the deadly global pandemic, billions of people across the globe remain without access to lifesaving shots as rich countries--which are obstructing efforts to waive vaccine patents and ramp up production--continue to hoard doses by the hundreds of millions.
A mere 6.3% of people in low-income countries have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, according to Our World in Data. A recent World Health Organization analysis found that just 27% of healthcare workers in Africa have been fully inoculated.
Lagging vaccination rates in developing countries have gained more attention in recent weeks following South African scientists' detection of the Omicron variant, a now-widespread strain that--according to early research--appears to be more adept at evading antibodies than previous strains.
Epidemiologists and activists have repeatedly warned that denying vaccines to much of the world increases the likelihood that a vaccine-resistant coronavirus mutation will emerge, potentially prolonging the global crisis.
"The Omicron variant must be a wake-up call," Tim Bierley, pharma campaigner at the U.K.-based advocacy group Global Justice Now, said in a statement Wednesday.
In an editorial published Tuesday, Natureobserved that "for a short while this year, researchers were optimistic that the pandemic might end at the end of 2022."
"But Andrea Taylor, who leads a Covid-19 data team at the Duke Global Health Innovation Center in Durham, North Carolina, says that will be pushed back until 2023 or even 2024, so long as wealthy nations insist on buying up most of the available vaccine stock without agreeing to provide more manufacturing capacity, and as new variants such as Omicron continue to arise," the editorial reads.
"It's an inescapable reality and an almost iron-clad law: the pandemic will not end while vaccine equity is pushed to the margins," the piece concludes.
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