COVID hypocrisy & misinformation

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here from sunny Nantucket and going to be here for a little bit. Thought we would talk about the latest on COVID. Certainly, we had hoped we'd be talking less about it at this point, at least in terms of the developed world. A combination of the transmissibility of Delta variant and the extraordinary misinformation around vaccines and COVID treatment means that we are not in the position that many certainly had hoped we would be today.

The United States is the biggest problem on this front. We are awash in vaccines. Operation Warp Speed was an enormous success. The best vaccines in the world, the most effective mRNA, the United States doing everything it can to get secure doses for the entire country quick, more quickly than any other major economy in the world, and now we're having a hard time convincing people to take them. The politics around this are nasty and as divided as the country, absolutely not what you want to see in response to a health crisis.

On the left, I'm seeing so much talk about mask mandates and so much hypocrisy. The mayor of Washington, DC announcing a mask mandate for the entire district and literally within hours, she shows up to officiate a wedding and nobody's wearing masks, including the mayor, Muriel Bowser. You remember back, the governor of California, now under a recall campaign, Gavin Newsom, when everything was shut down and he's there at the French Laundry, a great restaurant, having an indoor party with his buddies mask-less when nobody else was doing that. President Obama, former President Obama now about to have 475 people at a big party for his 60th birthday in the (Martha's) Vineyard while you have so many among the Democrats that are saying, "no, we have to have mask mandates when cases are increasing. You shouldn't be gathering in these larger groups."

At the same time, you've got people like Governor DeSantis in Florida, Governor Abbott in Texas, and others that are saying that vaccine mandates among private corporations should be illegal. That if you're a restaurant, if you're a store, you're not allowed to tell people who are coming into your establishment that they have to show proof of vaccination, which strikes me as a ludicrous thing to do. And certainly, given how extraordinarily effective we know these vaccines are, there's just far too much virtue signaling.

We don't need everyone in the country wearing masks. We just need everyone vaccinated. And there need to be consequences otherwise. And yes, I know the vaccines are not yet proven safe for children. I would not make an argument that we should be requiring children to take vaccines until we know that they're safe. But we also know that those children are at extremely low risk for getting sick and dying from the disease. And given the amount of damage lack of attending classes does to kids and their development for well over a year now, the idea that we have teachers unions in the United States that are saying, "no, we refuse to open up classes again this fall given where the country is," that's extraordinary to me. It shouldn't be allowed. The schools have to open across the country. It's not like the danger of the disease is the only danger that's out there. You've got economic damage. You've got sociological and psychological damage. We have to get people, particularly poor people, at able to live normal lives. And who are the ones that can't effectively homeschool or have private tutors? Those are the ones that are going to be most affected by this yet again. So, I think that's a serious problem.

This outrageous politics-first approach on COVID response promotes misinformation. It is a tax on the poor and the uneducated. The wealthiest 1% in the United States are almost all vaccinated. The people with graduate degrees are almost all vaccinated, but the QAnon supporters, the National Enquirer readers, they are not. And if you believe that Trump actually won the presidency and is going to be reinstated in the next few weeks, of course you believe that the Delta variant is a fraud and that the vaccine is mind control. Bad domestic actors are perpetrating this on America. People are profiting from this. Social media companies are allowing this disinformation to persist. It is not coming from the Kremlin. We in the US are damaging ourselves far worse than Moscow or Beijing ever could. And that's in the United States.

And meanwhile, while the Americans are awash in vaccines that we are not taking and that are even going bad in Africa, the continent is almost fully un-vaccinated. 1.3 billion people on the African continent, 1% of that population is fully vaccinated. It's an obscenity. It can only be allowed to persist if we think that people living in Africa somehow aren't fully human beings, that they don't deserve the opportunities, the health care, the ability to live and protect their families, their children the way that we do in the wealthy countries.

I saw Secretary of State Tony Blinken saying that we are, the United States, sharing as many safe and effective vaccines around the world as possible. I couldn't believe he said that. I know Tony and I understand, and he's not a bad guy, I've known him for a long time, and as secretary of state, you have to be diplomatic. You can't always say what you mean. It's certainly why I shouldn't have that job, but this is just a false hood. The United States is not doing anything close to everything we can for the rest of the world.

We are shockingly ungenerous in the ability and willingness to fund and to provide vaccines for those that don't have them. The COVAX Facility so far, 150 million doses delivered. The plan, the modest and reasonable plan for now was 650 million doses. We are 500 million doses short. It's underfunded. You had 1.8 billion per vaccine delivery that was provided for last month, over a billion dollars short of their modest goals. This was the kind of thing, it's not just the United States, pretty much any G20 economy, maybe not Argentina, any individual G20 economy could have done the COVAX funding by themselves, and they didn't. They all looked, I guess, not even at each other because they wouldn't budge. As long as you're taking care of your own country, that's all you need to do.

In this environment at a time that we are facing the worst crisis of our lifetimes, the United States on the one hand, refuses to follow basic science. We are as deeply politicized as any time we've ever experienced it, pointing fingers, calling names, thinking that we are our own worst enemy while we're not taking care of even the basics. And we can so easily afford to do so for those around the world.

It's much easier not to talk about this. It's much easier to not to focus on it. But if we can't get this right for COVID, how are we going to get it right for the bigger crises to come? How do we get it right for climate? How do we get it right for terrorism, for migration? How do we get it right for the next pandemic or the next variants of COVID? It's challenging and it's something we're going to keep talking about, but something I wanted to address today. As so many of us are thinking about summer and enjoying ourselves and our families and our friends, and that's all wonderful, but spare a thought and some action for those that are not so fortunate.

And I hope everyone's doing well. And I'll talk to you all real soon.

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