Hope in the aftermath of COVID: Town Hall on vaccines, global cooperation, and equitable recovery

The coronavirus is the biggest crisis of the 21st century. Yet the global response lacked the international coordination that marked other major crises in recent history. Why? Probably because the sheer scale of the public health emergency overwhelmed most countries, including the US, the world's largest economy.

The virtually zero coordination was "astonishing," Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer said during a special town hall hosted on December 4th by GZERO Media in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group, moderated by CNBC health care correspondent Bertha Coombs. Also surprising, Bremmer added, was the fact that many nations that we expected to do well ended up failing as the pandemic became politicized, they didn't lead with science, and were slow to act.


Now, the good news is that the end of the pandemic may soon be within reach thanks to the development of effective vaccines. But that's just the first step, according to Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman.

The immediate challenge, he said, is how to get the vaccines to the billions of people that need them, many of which may have to take two doses for maximum protection against COVID-19. In developing countries, the experience of dealing with Ebola in West Africa shows us it can be done, but it will be no walk in the park. And the long-term solution to the lack of cold-storage infrastructure in many parts of the world is a vaccine that is cheap, can be manufactured at scale in multiple locations at the same time, and can be easily distributed.

Not to mention the problem of many people who won't be willing to roll up their sleeves. For Professor Heidi Larson, Director of The Vaccine Confidence Project, in an era of politicized hyper-uncertainty around vaccines, the way forward is not to try to cancel such attitudes but rather educate and convince skeptics by helping people connect the dots with pieces of information.

Larson is confident that if we get it right and bring the right people along, a lot more people will get vaccinated — dramatically improveing our odds of defeating COVID-19 in 2021.

The key to success in building trust is doing so in such a way that bridges the gap with just science by using "validators" that wield influence within certain communities, Suzman said reflecting on Gates' experience in vaccination campaigns in parts of the world where there was deep suspicion.

At the end of the day, though, human beings are actually creatures of herd behavior, so achieving COVID-19 herd immunity is only a matter of convincing enough people to follow others on taking the vaccine, Larson added.

While vaccines get rolled out, another problem is how governments can help address the impact of hundreds of millions of jobs lost, many of which are not coming back to the acceleration of the digital workplace and the post-pandemic prominence of a tech-driven labor market in many countries.

Minouche Shafik, Director of London School of Economics & Political Science, said that the most important societal consequences of COVID-19 may be the erosion of the social contract between governments and citizens, and the hollowing out of the middle class.

At a time when many are calling to expand the welfare state to support those who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, Shafik explained it's time to debunk the myth that it's really about taking money from the rich to give it to the poor, when in reality it's a system you pay into so you have resources so you have a "piggy bank" of resources to draw on when hard times come.

Going back to the lack of cooperation on a global crisis, many world leaders have criticized the US decision to go at it alone, withdrawing from the World Health Organization and most multilateral fora under Trump's "America First" response to COVID-19.

For Madeleine Albright, the former US Secretary of State, America is still the world's indispensable nation, but that doesn't mean alone. Rather, the pandemic should give the country time to reflect on its ideal role in the world, which in the future should rely much more on partnerships with its allies. COVID-19 has demonstrated that no single country can deal with such a crisis on its own, and it has underscored the need to reform not just how the US deals with multilateral institutions but also ro reform the UN itself.

Albright said that the US doesn't always need to be in the driver's seat, but it cannot be AWOL. Bremmer agreed, adding that leaving WHO was an "obscene" move that the incoming Biden administration will surely reverse once the new president is sworn in, along with rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and signing up to the COVAX initiative to ensure equitable access to vaccines worldwide.

"Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year" was the third event in a series presented by GZERO Media in partnership with Eurasia Group and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, publisher of The Optimist. Watch our previous events, "Could Our Response to COVID Help End Poverty?" and "Ending the COVID-19 Pandemic".

Watch the above video for more insights from our panelists.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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