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.

That's Bank of America's new target in its Environmental Business Initiative in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

Here's how it will drive innovation to address climate change.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Should wealthy individuals and nations shoulder more of the burden in addressing climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that Big Tech leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk should shift more of their focus to fighting for our own planet's survival, instead of space exploration. "We're doing as much as we can to make life difficult on planet Earth for ourselves. But there's virtually nothing we could do to make it as difficult as life on Mars, where there's, among other things, no oxygen." Kolbert, the author of Under a White Sky, discusses why it's so crucial for a few rich countries to bear most of the climate burden, since they're also the biggest emitters. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 16. Check local listings.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

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Fighting climate change is about making the planet get less hot. The more quickly countries slow down their carbon emissions, the faster that'll happen. All the more important for the nations that pollute the most — but not all of them are on board. Although the majority, including China, are setting future targets to go Net Zero, India doesn't want to commit (yet) to when to stop burning fossil fuels to spur economic growth. We take a look at when the world's top polluting economies intend to go carbon-neutral, compared with their share of global emissions, of renewable energy as a source of electricity, and percentage of global coal consumption.

Peruvian runoff: Perú's presidential election is going to a runoff in June between two surprise and polarizing contenders, each of whom won less than 20 percent of votes in a highly fragmented first round. Pedro Castillo, a far-left union leader and teacher who benefited from a late surge in the polls, will battle rightwing populist Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Castillo wants to rewrite the constitution to weaken the political influence of the country's business elite and maybe to allow the state to nationalize parts of the mining sector to pay for social programs for the poor. Fujimori wants to use mining revenues to create jobs by investing in infrastructure and healthcare. The runoff will probably be a national referendum on Fujimori, a divisive figure running for the top job for the third time. No Peruvian president has ever left office without facing corruption charges, but Fujimori already faces several — and she'll avoid jail time if she wins.

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