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.

Early employment can set a young person on a trajectory for success, providing both a paycheck and a stepping-stone for improving academic performance.

Bank of America is committed to investing in youth employment, funding $160 million since 2018 to connect youth and young adults to jobs and mentoring.

The minutiae of supply chains makes for boring dinner table talk, but it's increasingly becoming a hot topic of conversation now that packages are taking much longer to arrive in the consumer-oriented US, while prices of goods soar.

With the issue unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, right-wing media have dubbed President Biden the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, conjuring images of sad Christmas trees surrounded by distraught children whose holiday gifts are stuck somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

It hasn't been a good run for Uncle Joe in recent months. What issues are tripping him up?

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Three years ago, Facebook changed its algorithms to mitigate online rage and misinformation. But it only made Facebook worse by boosting toxic engagement, says Nick Thompson, The Atlantic CEO & former WIRED editor-in-chief. Thompson believes Facebook simply got in over its head, rather than becoming intentionally "evil" like, say, Big Tobacco with cigarettes. "I think they just created something they couldn't control. And I think they didn't grasp what was happening until too late." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

From overall health and wellness to representation in the global workforce, women and girls have faced serious setbacks over the past 18+ months. They also hold the key to more robust and inclusive growth in the months and years ahead: McKinsey & Company estimates that centering recovery efforts on women could contribute $13 trillion to global GDP by 2030.

On October 28th at 12pm ET, as part of our "Measuring What Matters" series, GZERO Media and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will look beyond traditional indicators of economic recovery to examine COVID-19's impact on girls and women, specifically in the areas of health and employment.

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This year, American kids who've asked Santa for L.O.L. Surprise! dolls, Nerf blasters, or classic Legos may be disappointed. The delivery of these and other in-demand toys could be delayed due to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions that are still hitting US businesses and consumers hard. Container vessels loaded with precious cargo are waiting days to enter busy US ports, while within the country truck drivers are working flat out to meet soaring demand for goods of all kinds. Products are getting wildly expensive or arriving late. Here's a snapshot of the problem, showing longer delivery times, skyrocketing freight and shipping costs, and trucker employment.

Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A long-running Senate investigation in Brazil has found that by downplaying the severity of COVID, dithering on vaccines, and promoting quack cures, President Jair Bolsonaro directly caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. An earlier version of the report went so far as to recommend charges of homicide and genocide as well, but that was pulled back in the final copy to a mere charge of "crimes against humanity", according to the New York Times. The 1,200-page report alleges Bolsonaro's policies led directly to the deaths of at least half of the 600,000 Brazilians who have succumbed to the virus. It's a bombshell charge, but it's unlikely to land Bolsonaro in the dock — for that to happen he'd have to be formally accused by the justice minister, an ally whom he appointed, and the lower house of parliament, which his supporters control. Still, as the deeply unpopular Bolsonaro limps towards next year's presidential election, a rap of this kind isn't going to help.

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11,412: Irmgard Furchner, a 92-year-old former typist at a Nazi concentration camp in Germany, is facing trial for contributing to the murder of 11,412 people there. Furchner tried to escape German authorities in late September by sneaking out of her nursing home, but was arrested hours later and slapped with an electronic wrist tag.

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If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Russia's Vladimir Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

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