Pfizer breakthrough puts vaccine politics back in the spotlight

Art by Annie Gugliotta

US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced Monday that the coronavirus vaccine it is jointly developing with German company BioNTech is more than 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19. The news that the end of the pandemic could be in sight drove global stock markets through the roof (except for Zoom!), and raised hopes around the world. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government's top infectious disease expert, called the preliminary figure "extraordinary."

What does this mean not only for the pandemic, but for the politics around it?


First, Pfizer's claim is based on an interim analysis of Phase III clinical trials on only 44,000 people. We still don't know if the vaccine will work when tested on a bigger sample size, or if the initial results will hold later on. Second, even if they do, the drug will still have to go through a process of national-level approvals.

Third, it will then have to be made accessible to the global population (at the moment, 11 other vaccines are in Phase III trials; Russia and China have already started administering their own drugs). And fourth, governments will have to convince their citizens to take the vaccine, which only 58 percent of Americans are willing to do right now amid growing skepticism worldwide.

In the meantime, get ready for some potentially messy vaccine politics in the US and around the world.

As the US reported over 100,000 new coronavirus cases for the third day in a row, US President Donald Trump tweeted out the good news, although it's unclear how he will proceed on approving a drug. After all, he can't benefit politically from it after being defeated by Joe Biden in the recent election. Pfizer has avoided the scrum of US presidential politics by not signing up to Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration's plan to fast-track development, production, and distribution of a vaccine.

President-elect Biden, on the other hand, was cautiously optimistic about the vaccine, setting realistic expectations on when all Americans will be vaccinated. In any case, who would get those doses first — or at all — is a major issue. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla raised some eyebrows when he said it would be available to all US citizens, potentially leaving out tens of millions of people who live and work in America on visas or green cards.

Globally, this is a broader consideration. More than 170 countries have joined the COVAX global initiative to ensure equitable distribution, but rich countries have been allowed to stockpile hundreds of millions of doses for their own people. Indeed, the European Union, Japan, the US, and the UK reserved a combined 450 million doses months ago of the Pfizer vaccine — which is not (yet) part of COVAX — months ago.

An immediate future in which developed nations get inoculated first while the developing world waits in line would not only prolong the public health and economic challenges of the coronavirus — it would exacerbate global inequality by slowing the speed at which poorer countries can bounce back.

The bottom line: Promising results for a COVID-19 vaccine are definitely a rare piece of good news in 2020. But the political and logistical challenges of approval and distribution are only just beginning, in the US and around the world.

Meet Zoe Marshall, grandmother, fishmonger, and thriving business owner.

https://ad.doubleclick.net/ddm/trackimp/N6024.4218512GZEROMEDIA/B26379324.311531246;dc_trk_aid=504469522;dc_trk_cid=156468981;ord=[timestamp];dc_lat=;dc_rdid=;tag_for_child_directed_treatment=;tfua=;gdpr=${GDPR};gdpr_consent=${GDPR_CONSENT_755};ltd=

When Zoe Marshall decided to switch careers in her forties and become a fishmonger, she was scared. After leaving her job of 23 years, Zoe was forced to pivot in order to keep her family's home. Despite challenges, she forged ahead, opening Sea-Licious. Accepting Visa payments in her fishmonger shop, this access to commerce helps Zoe provide convenience to her customers and confidence in their transactions. Though she's one of the only women in the fish market each morning, her business and its place in the local community are flourishing with Visa's help.

Learn more about Zoe and her story.

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?

More Show less

Taking place on October 21 and 22, the Sustainability Leaders Summit will go beyond preexisting narratives and debate priorities for governments and industries ahead of COP26. Placing the spotlight on Asia's role in the global sustainability agenda, the event will address whether Asian countries and companies can achieve shared sustainability goals, and what is needed to help get them there. The summit will be co-hosted by Tak Niinami, CEO of Suntory Holdings, and Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. We will address three key questions: How can Asian countries, with the help of the private sector, achieve shared Sustainability Goals? Why does this matter? And what are the policy changes needed to bring it about?

Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to attend.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the NBA's latest rift with China, Brazil's Senate investigation, and COVID booster shots.

China wipes Boston Celtics from NBA broadcast after the "Free Tibet" speech from Enes Kanter. Is NBA boxing itself into a corner?

Nice mixed sports metaphor there. NBA has some challenges because they are of course the most progressive on political and social issues in the United States among sports leagues, but not when it comes to China, their most important international market. And you've seen that with LeBron James telling everyone about we need to learn better from the Communist Party on issues like Hong Kong and how Daryl Morey got hammered for taking his stance in favor of Hong Kong democracy. Well, Enes Kanter's doing the same thing and he's a second-string center. Didn't even play yesterday and still the Chinese said that they were not going to air any Boston Celtics games. Why? Because he criticized the Chinese government and had some "Free Tibet" sneakers. This is a real problem for a lot of corporations out there, but particularly publicly, the NBA. Watch for a bunch of American politicians to make it harder for the NBA going forward, saying how dare you kowtow to the Chinese when you're all about "Black Lives Matter" inside the United States. No fun.

More Show less

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

A Trump media platform? Is this for real?

This week, President Trump announced his potential return to social media through the creation of his own digital media platform that's going to merge with an existing publicly-traded company in a deal known as a SPAC. These deals are increasingly popular for getting access to capital, and it seems like that's where President Trump is headed.

The publicly-traded company's stock was up on the news, but it's really hard to see this coming together. The Trump media company claims it wants to go up against not only Facebook and Twitter, but companies like Amazon and cloud computing and even Disney providing a safe space for conservatives to share their points of view. The fact of the matter is, conservatives do quite well on existing social media platforms when they aren't being kicked off for violating the terms of service, and other conservative social media platforms that have attempted to launch this year haven't really gone off the ground.

More Show less

Protests in Sudan: Protests are again shaking the Sudanese capital, as supporters of rival wings of the transitional government take to the streets. Back in 2019, after popular demonstrations led to the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, a deal was struck between civilian activists and the army, in which a joint civilian-military government would run the country until fresh elections could be held in 2023. But now supporters of the military wing are calling on it to dissolve the government entirely, while supporters of the civilian wing are counter-protesting. Making matters worse, a pro-military tribal leader in Eastern Sudan has set up a blockade which is interrupting the flow of goods and food to the capital. The US, which backs the civilian wing, has sent an envoy to Khartoum as tensions rise, while Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all vying for a piece as well.

More Show less

1 billion: One billion Indians have now gotten at least one COVID vaccine shot. It's a big turnaround for the country, which stumbled with the initial rollout and then suspended vaccine exports for months to deal with a deadly wave in the spring. Still, only 30 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated in India, the world's largest manufacturer of vaccines.

More Show less

Listen: The nature of work had already been changing long before the global pandemic accelerated trends around flexible work, remote work technology, and the gig economy. While some industries and workers have benefitted from these changes, others have been left behind - including many women who dropped out of the workforce due to family concerns, or service-industry professionals whose jobs evaporated.

The latest episode of Living Beyond Borders, a special podcast series from GZERO brought to you by Citi Private Bank, looks in depth at the future of work and how the latest trends will change business, the economy, and the global political balance. Moderated by Caitlin Dean, Head of the Geostrategy Practice at Eurasia Group, this episode features Ida Liu, Global Head of Private Banking at Citi Global Wealth and Alexander Kazan, Chief Commercial Officer at Eurasia Group.

Ida Liu Global Head of Private Banking, Citi Global Wealth

Ida Liu

Global Head of Private Banking, Citi Global Wealth

Alexander Kazan, Chief Commercial Officer at Eurasia Group

Alexander Kazan

Chief Commercial Officer, Eurasia Group

Caitlin Dean, Practice Head, Geostrategy, Eurasia Group

Caitlin Dean

Practice Head, Geostrategy, Eurasia Group

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal