Uncertainties of COVID vaccine rollout timing; US-Russia under Biden

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

Number one, what will COVID vaccine distribution look like in the United States and elsewhere?

Very politicized, right? I mean, the fact is that there's an effort to have a distribution to medium and low-income countries. $38 billion requested, one fourth funded at this point. It is so obvious we desperately need it. The money is not yet there. It's clear that the emerging markets are going to take a lot longer and the poorest countries are going to take a lot longer to get vaccines. Now, at least that's less of a disaster in some countries with very, very young people because it's all asymptomatic spread, very few people are actually dying or getting sick from coronavirus if you're in, let's say, a Sub-Saharan African country where the average age is 17 or 18.


But still, your ability to get travel back up and going and get supply chains back up and going in many emerging markets around the world means you want those vaccines. And they don't have the ability to pay for the shutdowns that they do in other places. So, Mexico right now, I mean, their explosion of cases looks a lot like what's happening in the United States. They should be locking Mexico City down according to their equivalent of the CDC and their guidelines. But they don't have the money for it. And so, as a consequence, they're just betting everything on the vaccine. So, we hope that they get out real fast.

The vaccines themselves, of course, look fantastic. And it's great to see people getting that shot in the arm, quite literally shot in the arm, for them, for their families, for their economies starting off in the UK, the United States, and very quickly Europe and the rest. I think that we need to recognize the uncertainties around exact timing. We know this is going to bring us back to normal. We know it's for the wealthy countries, it will be this year. But there's a huge difference between April and fall, especially in terms of how many businesses go out of business. And so, I think, because we're talking about massive amounts of production that needs to go right with only a couple of companies that are involved in it for the contracts that need to be fulfilled, with distribution that happens across many states with different political capacity and orientation, different rule sets, I mean, I think that the initial rollout for the people that are most vulnerable will go well. And that is really important because they are the ones that are most likely to get really sick and die.

And so, by February, by March, mortality rates, even with limited distribution, are going to be a fraction of what they are right now. Probably about, I could see one 10th by the end of first quarter. But then going from there to do we all have vaccines and are we able to go back out and travel and socialize and get entertainment? I think there's a pretty big gap of three, nine months, depending on how effective the rollout is, the infrastructure is, as well as how many people believe that they should actually take the vaccine. The numbers have gone up recently, but mostly, actually, among Democrats. Republicans still very skeptical.

We need both parties to come together in terms of the vaccine and hopefully not have blamesmanship. The worse the rollout is, the more you're also going to see political fragmentation that makes it worse. There'll be less of that in Europe, in my view. But still there. Anti-vax sentiment in France is even higher than the United States. Russia is even higher than in both places. And by the way, given the nature of the Sputnik V vaccine, that's probably reasonable. But that's where we are. So, a lot to watch. Absolutely critical for 2021.

Vladimir Putin, speaking of Russia, Vladimir Putin finally congratulated Joe Biden. What will the United States-Russia relationship look like under a Biden presidency?

By the way, so did Mitch McConnell. I don't know if he congratulated him, but he did refer to Biden as the president-elect. So now that we've actually had the electoral college vote, and yes, it's the same 306 electoral votes as we knew sort of right after the election. It's been a month; it took a long time. The US Russia relationship looks more problematic under a Biden presidency, in part because of these major cyber attacks that we've just seen. Those cyber attacks against, first, we knew commerce and treasury, but now also defense and homeland security. This is a major, major effort by the Russian government and ordered by the Russian government that reflects massive espionage success in the United States and will undermine the ability of the United States to conduct its own intelligence capabilities inside Russia. How broad that goes, it will take us a long time to find out.

But certainly, it will lead to more sanctions from the United States against Russia. The mutual recrimination, the lack of trust, the willingness of the Russians to try to undermine US interests, legitimacy, domestic institutions, you name it, the transatlantic relationship, that's just going to persist under Putin, who has no real threats to his leadership in his country and who blames the United States for the decline that Russia is in. So, I do think it's going to get worse. And given the willingness of the Russians to engage in these kinds of attacks that are obviously represent a level of risk, it's pretty significant, it's pretty dangerous. Having said all of that, the US engages in cyber attacks against Russia too all the time. So, let's not pretend that this isn't tit for tat. The Americans don't accept that tit for tat because the Russians are so much less powerful, unequal. But we do need to put that in perspective in terms of what the Russians will do in response and how the Americans will respond.

I would also say that the fact that Biden will rejoin the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement, would want to rejoin Open Skies if we hadn't started scrapping the surveillance planes, all of that does help, at the margins, normalize the relationship a little bit, even as it continues to be very, very sticky in a bunch of key areas.

Okay, let's talk baseball. The Cleveland _____?

Well, I mean, not my favorite team. You guys know I'm from Boston, so I still am very much a Red Sox fan. But they are no longer named the Indians. And I was kind of wondering, when you get rid of the Washington Redskins, why the Cleveland Indians were still kind of a thing. It seems like everything is going to move in the direction of let's no longer have Native Americans that are stylized as sports icons with all these people doing Tomahawk chops and generally disliked by the few remaining Native Americans in the United States for understandable reasons.

What do we want to name Cleveland? First of all, I like the fact that in Washington, it's just like the Washington football team. For the time being, it's kind of amusing. They've basically punted it, which is what you should do if you're a football team. If you're a baseball team, though, you can't punt, right? You got to come up with something pretty immediately. I've seen on the Internets, as they say, a few suggestions. The Cleveland Spiders kind of the old school favorite because they had a national league team back at the late 19th century. That's cute. But spiders, do you really want ... Spiders doesn't really sound like a baseball team. I'm not sure I would go there.

Maybe the Cleveland Guardians for the guardians for traffic statues on both ends of this major downtown Cleveland bridge. How about the Cleveland LeBrons, right? I mean, they lost him, but this way they could have him back. And maybe he'd visit and show up occasionally. He's done more for the Cleveland economy than anything else out there. And plus, he was multi-sport, right? I mean, the guy can do anything. He's not quite Bo, but he's close. So that's where I'm going. I'm going with the Cleveland LeBrons. I think that's where it should be. And then who cares how long he stays on the west coast.

Ken Burns discusses Muhammad Ali's background and how the journey of boxing's greatest champion is just as relevant today—in sport, culture and beyond.

"He is speaking to us with a kind of force and clarity...that to me is just so enduring." - Ken Burns

No country in the Western Hemisphere is more closely associated with disaster and misery than the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Its latest upheaval centers on news that the country's top prosecutor wants Haiti's prime minister to answer questions about the murder of the president in July. Haiti is again locked in a power struggle among competing factions within its ruling elite.

Why is Haiti still so poor and disaster-prone?

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For Michael Chertoff, former US secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009, the fact that America has not experienced a single attack by foreign terrorists since 9/11 proves that the US was "successful" in its strategy to prevent terrorism. That "was not [an] accident and there was a deterrent effect to be honest — had we been lax, more would have tried." Although he admits the US government wasn't transparent enough about the intelligence it was collecting, Chertoff credits US intelligence agencies with helping to foil the plot to blow up airplanes mid-air from Heathrow to the US in 2006. The US mission in Iraq, or what came after was not clearly thought out, according to Michael Chertoff, who served as the Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. The Iraq war made it difficult to focus on the US mission in Afghanistan and absorbed resources that could have been used more effectively elsewhere, he said.

Watch the full episode: Is America safer since 9/11?

Listen: In a frank interview on the GZERO World podcast, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, speaks with Ian Bremmer at the UN ahead of the annual General Assembly week. Guterres discusses COVID, climate, the US-China rift, and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and does not mince words when it comes to the dire state of the world. "We are standing at the edge of an abyss," Guterres warns. COVID is "defeating" the global community and a climate catastrophe is all but assured without drastic action. Amidst this unprecedented peril, there remains a startling lack of trust among nations. And yet, there is still hope.

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.


"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still." — Harry S. Truman

The former US president's warning feels particularly prescient as world leaders prepare to gather at the 76th United National General Assembly in New York City, the first such in-person event in over 18 months. The importance of apt leadership in determining societies' ability to cope — and survive — has been on full display since COVID-19 enveloped the globe, decimating communities and killing some 4.5 million people.

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As the 76th UN General Assembly gets underway, dealing with the pandemic is still the top priority for world leaders. But for John Frank, vice president of UN Global Affairs at Microsoft, COVID is not the only major challenge the world faces today.

One of them — included in the UN Secretary-General's new Common Agenda for strong, inclusive pandemic recovery — is a different way to measure economic growth beyond the traditional productivity-led GDP model by taking more into account the cost of pollution, one of the main causes of climate change.

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For UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the pandemic has made the world even more divided than it was before COVID. That's especially true on climate, in his view, because rich and poor countries simply don't trust each other anymore. If we want COP26 to succeed, Guterres says we must rebuild that trust — or face the consequences of inaction. "If you are on the verge of an abyss, you must be careful about your next step." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

"Pandemic" was the most used word of 2020. "Delta" looks set to inherit this year's title.

Vaccination rates are ticking up slowly. Governments aren't talking to each other enough. Parts of the world are back to normal, while others are still locked down.

Have we actually made any progress since the COVID-19 outbreak?


Unfinished Business: Is the World Really Building Back Better?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 11am ET/ 8am PT

Our speakers:

Special appearance by António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.

Visit gzeromedia.com/globalstage to watch on the day of the event.

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UNGA 76: Vaccines, climate, crises

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UN Chief: Still time to avert climate “abyss”

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