Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.
Nasal sprays, oral vaccines, and other new types of COVID-19 vaccines may be ready soon, according to Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization. She previews some of these needle-less vaccines and notes that the possibility of being able to store vaccines at room temperature could be a game-changer for vaccinating poorer nations. The advantage of nasal sprays, she explains, is that they "would generate local mucosal immunity in addition to systemic immunity." Dr. Swaminathan's conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured on the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 9. Check local listings.
The country's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, joins Ian Bremmer to talk vaccines, school re-openings, and when—and how—the pandemic could finally come end. He was last on GZERO World just weeks before the pandemic hit in the fall of 2019 and he described at the time what kept him up at night: a "pandemic-like respiratory illness." This time, he'll talk about how closely that nightmare scenario foreshadowed the COVID-19 pandemic. He'll also offer some guidance about what public health measures vaccinated Americans should continue to take in the coming months (hint: masks stay on).
The most ambitious global vaccination drive in history is in motion. Over the past three months, more than 213 million COVID-19 shots have been administered across 95 countries, and the vaccination rate is slowly increasing. At the current rate, around 6.11 million doses are being administered daily.
It's a rare bit of hopeful news after 15 months of collective misery. So where do things stand at the moment, and what's keeping the world from getting to herd immunity faster?
Vaccines for the neediest. The COVAX facility, formed last summer to ensure cash-strapped countries get their hands on vaccines, shipped the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines to the West African country of Ghana on Wednesday. Neighboring Ivory Coast will be next in line, and could start vaccinating its 26 million people as soon as next week.
The COVAX rollout is a big deal given that so far, 75 percent of all shots worldwide have been administered in just 10 wealthy countries. But there are still massive shortfalls in the program. For one thing, the facility's commitment to provide 2 billion vaccines to 92 low-income countries covers shots for only 20 percent of the population in those states, far below the herd immunity threshold of about 70 percent. For another, the vaccines are arriving slowly: Ghana, for instance, has received only 600,000 doses, covering 1 percent of its population.
So far, COVAX's ability to reach its goal remains precarious, in part because of funding shortfalls as well as global supply issues — drugs simply aren't being made fast enough to cover people spanning the 54 countries waiting on jabs through the scheme.
Early stars of the vaccine show. Several countries are doing a top-notch job at getting needles into arms.
When South America became a COVID hotspot last summer, Chile emerged as an epicenter within an epicenter, recording one of the world's fastest growing caseloads. Now, Chile is overseeing one of the world's most efficient vaccine rollouts, having vaccinated over 16 percent of its population already, the fifth highest in the world. Santiago succeeded by diversifying its procurement efforts (buying doses from China's Sinovac, Pfizer-BioNTech, as well as through COVAX), and turning any public space into a mass vaccination site.
Israel has now vaccinated over 88 percent of its population of 9 million, leading the global vaccination race by a long shot. Analysts say that Israel's digitized universal health-care infrastructure has made it easier to monitor the vaccination drive and quickly identify groups of eligible people. But for all its successes, Israel has not ensured equitable access to Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, many of whom regularly cross into Israel. At the same time, the government plans on sending up to 100,000 doses to far-flung places like Honduras, Chad, and the Czech Republic in exchange for their diplomatic backing.
Lastly, after the UK bungled its pandemic containment effort (it has one of the world's highest per capita death tolls) Prime Minister Boris Johnson reversed course to manage one of the most efficient vaccine drives in the world. Having inoculated a third of all British adults (with at least one dose), British authorities now say that all adults should get a first COVID shot by July 31, more than a month earlier than originally planned.
Queue jumping and inequality. Still, access to vaccines remains deeply unequal within many countries.
The World Bank this week threatened to cut off funding for cash-strapped Lebanon's vaccine program after Lebanese politicians bypassed eligibility rules to secure vaccines for themselves and their cronies. This took place mere weeks after the country experienced a surge in COVID cases, overwhelming hospitals. The revelation sparked outrage among many Lebanese already disillusioned by the corruption plaguing the country's ruling elite.
A similar scandal has gripped Peru, where some 500 former and current government officials admitted to skipping vaccine queues to snatch jabs intended for healthcare workers.
Lastly, inequality of access isn't just a problem at the global scale — it's happening even within some of the wealthier countries that have had easy access to vaccines — like the US. While America's piecemeal vaccine drive has ramped up after a shaky start, access for Black and Latino communities still lags in many parts of the country. California Governor Gavin Newsom came under fire when it emerged that of the 7.3 million doses administered in the state, only 2.9 percent have gone to Black residents, who make up 6.5 percent of the population, and 16 percent to Latinos (who account for 38 percent). Similar trends have been detected in New York.
Ian's Quick Take:
Hi everybody, Ian Bremmer here on a snowy Friday in New York City. But if it was any other year, I'd actually be in Munich right now for the annual Munich Security Conference. It's the largest gathering every year of foreign and security policy leaders and experts from the transatlantic community, and increasingly from around the world. It's, for obvious reasons, postponed this year, they're hoping to put something together in the summer in-person, but that didn't stop some of the most prominent leaders across the transatlantic partners from speaking virtually at an event that streamed live over a few hours today. So, given that I thought I'd give you a quick response on what I thought was happening and answer some of your questions.
So, first of all, President Biden, Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and the UK's Boris Johnson all spoke today, as well as multilateral leaders like António Guterres, my buddy from the UN and Dr. Tedros Adhanom of the World Health Organization. The pandemic, vaccine rollout, distribution, renewed commitment to transatlantic partnerships, the big topics today.
Let me first give you some highlights. Obviously, the big news is a sense of enthusiasm from the leaders that were speaking. You look at the transatlantic relationship, America First under President Trump was not meant to be popular in Europe, it was not popular in Europe. All of the leaders speaking today with Biden, happy to bang on the message that the United States is back on the global stage and embraces multilateralism and wants to work primarily with American allies.
Biden himself, committing to working together with partners on a host of issues like pandemic response and vaccine distribution, as well as climate change. Just a very different top-line message, a very different feel from the American president than we've seen from the last four years of Trump. Maybe the most interesting point from Joe Biden was him describing the world as being at an inflection point, calling out the need to defend democracy in the United States, as well as in Europe and saying to combat the rise of autocracy, you have to demonstrate that democracy can deliver for our people. And on the back of January 6th in the United States, on the back of a contested election, that many Americans still believe was stolen, on the back of so many in Western democracies that increasingly see the Chinese model seems stable and it's economically continuing to succeed, but they're getting angry about the effectiveness of their own democracies well before they exported, that certainly was a message, not of American exceptionalism, but rather of American potential, rather of what needs to be done, the work that needs to be done before the US can really be back. I think it's important, it's fine to say that America's back, but it's not like everybody really believes that we can just jump into the status quo ante.
Angela Merkel, this is her swan song. This is 16 years of Chancellor of Germany, and they come to an end this year. A very similar message, a very aligned message. I felt pretty confident that both Merkel and Biden had read each other's draft speeches before they gave their own comments, which is kind of a nice thing to see, shared belief that the democracy is the foundation of the transatlantic partnership, more than shared security, more than economic interests, alignment of values. Again, something that has taken an enormous hit over the past several years, both inside Europe and increasingly inside the United States to an even greater degree. And so, even though the allies may not agree on every issue and in some, they clearly don't, that on core values compared to countries like Russia and Iran and China and other rogue States around the world, that this is what the transatlantic relationship is founded on, and certainly what the Munich Security Conference has been founded on.
The reality is that there is near-term relief from everybody appearing, but also a lot of long-term mistrust, at least unease and still not an awful lot of real policy alignment. I mean, you see President Biden right before this speech announcing tougher "buy American" clauses to ensure that when the US spends trillions of dollars in relief and stimulus, that it goes to the United States and its corporations, and it doesn't go to other countries around the world, no matter how aligned they are. That is much more of an America First policy perspective, and much more unilateralism than the multilateralism that is being touted. But of course, that's a reality for how politics in Washington gets done, especially given how divided and how angry the population is. Europe doing an awful lot of that on issues like trade and technology as well. The US much more worried about China as the principal national security threat out there. Europe, it depends on who you talk to, not so much. Economics, much more important. Certainly, willingness to go after China on values, much, much weaker in the case of Europe these days. And the United States, increasingly not as interested in the Middle East, not like Europe has much of a choice, geographically and that is also going to be an area of tension.
Among other major themes today, climate for sure. Bill Gates, giving a speech drawing comparisons between climate change and global response on pandemic saying, "There is no vaccine for the environment and that we can't wait until it's too late." By the way, I'd add, there's also no vaccine for political divisions inside the United States and Europe. Another big problem, perhaps one that we'll hear Biden say in future speeches. Gates also said that by the end of the century, climate change will kill five times as many people per year as the pandemic is right now. Clearly that is what he is pivoting towards in terms of top priorities now that the vaccines have such a strong kickstart in the United States and increasingly in Europe too.
Also heard today on climate from John Kerry, President Biden's Special Envoy for Climate, it is a cabinet position, a new one, that climate change must be treated as a national security issue. Everyone in the Biden administration is rowing in the same direction on that. By the way, we expect at least two to $3 trillion for green infrastructure after the 1.9 trillion in initial coronavirus relief is passed in the coming weeks. That is an enormously big deal for 2021 made possible because you actually have 50 Democrats in Senate. A lot of that will be paid for by taxes, additional taxes, corporate taxes, taxes on the wealthy, but a lot of that's going to be more deficit financing as well. So, you're going to have your infrastructure year after so much failure for so many decades in the United States for not putting money into that as we see playing out in Texas, for example, right now. Also, Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister calling for building back better and greener after the pandemic, certainly wanting to show how aligned he is with the US and the Biden administration after the shambolic Brexit proceedings over the course of the last five plus years.
Cyber and technology, also a big topic. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen notably calling for ensuring that what is illegal offline is also illegal online and for internet companies to take a lot more responsibility for that. By the way, this is clearly the issue where there's very little alignment between the US and Europe. There is certainly no strategy between the two. I would argue that the Europeans mistrust the United States on tech policy almost as much as they mistrust China, which is quite something and going to be very hard to align this year.
Anyway, the first of several virtual events like this, I'm sure, on the road to Munich 2021, organizers of the conference, very optimistic that an in-person or hybrid event is going to happen later this year. When it does, GZERO will certainly be there to cover it.
Okay, I said I'd answer a couple of your questions. Here we go. I have them from you.
Number one, isn't it in the EU's interest to see more pro-China now that they are their biggest trade partners?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, lots of sharp language about the challenge posed by China across the board and the need to put up better competition. But the Europeans clearly see that on issues of trade and investment, China matters a lot more to them. And unless the United States has a very clear and aligned strategy that is very attractive to the Europeans in the near term, they are going to continue to hedge like crazy. Keep in mind, China's only getting bigger. By 2028, the expectation is that China becomes the largest economy in the world with a very different economic model, a very different political model, a very different technological model, a very different set of standards and architecture. The transatlantic relationship was set up common values, but also security dealing with Russia where actually for the United States, the principal concern now overwhelmingly is China and that's a real serious problem.
Okay. How much does Merkel's departure and Super Mario's arrival matter for US-European relations?
Surprisingly, not a single direct mention of Mario Draghi today. I'm a little shocked about that. I mean, this guy, after Merkel, is the most significant, the most respected leader on the European continent and he has just taken over a big majority as Prime Minister in Italy. This is the best news for one of the largest economies in the EU and he is a super advocate of stronger, more integrated European Union and a strong relationship with the United States. I'm really surprised that there were no callouts about Draghi's. The biggest, biggest mistake in my view made by the leaders speaking today. But I certainly think it will be good for US-EU relations, it will be good for keeping the Europeans closer together. As we know, in Italy, you can never count on governments for long, but this one is good while it lasts.
What will the international community do to ensure universal vaccine equity, particularly where's there's minimal state capacity and/or regime reluctance?
It's going to be tough. It's great that we saw that Joe Biden is committing $2 billion to COVAX with a pledge of an additional $2 billion if others step up. Emmanuel Macron talking about Africa, specifically, calling for a lot more aid to ensure that all healthcare workers there, he says about 6.5 million people, get the vaccine immediately. But the reality is you're getting vaccines to wealthy countries well before it gets to poorer countries, well before it gets to the poorest countries. You're rolling out vaccines, really fast to the wealthy countries, it's extraordinary. Most of the world still hasn't gotten their first jab yet. In most of the world's countries still haven't gotten their first job yet. So, there is an obvious and massive question on vaccine equity and it's going to hurt a lot of the economies of the world pretty stiffly. It's more of an economic issue than a healthcare issue. So many of these countries, very, very young people, which means not many people get really sick. Most of the spread is asymptomatic, but it's going to hurt them in terms of reopening their economies, getting their people to travel, remittances that come from that, all of these challenges, that's a big lift. I hope we'll see more.
So, that's it for me. I hope you enjoyed this. I hope you found the Munich coverage interesting and worthwhile and have a great weekend. Stay safe, stay warm and avoid people.
Can the US vaccinate enough of its population to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths before new and more contagious COVID-19 variants take hold? And will these vaccines even be effective against more adaptable mutations of the virus? Surgeon and public health expert Dr. Atul Gawande, most recently of the Biden/Harris COVID-19 Transition Task Force, joins Ian Bremmer on GZERO World to discuss the latest in the global effort to vaccinate our way out of this pandemic. He also explains why people should get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if offered the chance, despite its lower overall efficacy rate compared to the mRNA-based vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take (part 1):
Ian Bremmer here, happy Monday. And have your Quick Take to start off the week.
Maybe start off with Biden because now President Biden has had a week, almost a week, right? How was it? How's he doing? Well, for the first week, I would say pretty good. Not exceptional, but not bad, not bad. Normal. I know everyone's excited that there's normalcy. We will not be excited there's normalcy when crises start hitting and when life gets harder and we are still in the middle of a horrible pandemic and he has to respond to it. But for the first week, it was okay.
To start, thank God that the inauguration itself was smooth. And that indeed, the biggest takeaway from the inauguration is that we can all meme Bernie Sanders, the people's meme for months, apparently, maybe for years. That's something the United States probably needed after four years of just their head exploding with things that were only meme-able in ways that upset people. This is something that can bring people together, but it's not a serious issue. Serious issue is that that was not violence. The serious issue is that there were not violent protests, there were not massive demonstrations. It wasn't disruptive. It was horrible to see 26,000 members of the National Guard protecting the inauguration and all the ceremonies around it. But I was still very glad to see that in all of the state capitals and everywhere people were so worried. In fact, the only major violence that we had from a demonstration perspective was not on the far right, it was the far left and Antifa in Portland, largely broken up with arrest and some violence, but that was it for the whole week. And given the events of January 6th to have gotten that far in two weeks is a positive thing.
As far as Biden's actions, the initial executive orders were pretty consistent with what we had grown to expect coming into the Paris Climate Accord is as much of a layup as one can possibly have in foreign policy. Every other country in the world opposed the US leaving the Paris climate accord, very easy for Biden to rejoin and quite popular, actually a strong majority of Americans support it, including a decent number on the right. The willingness to recommit to the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic also should be a no brainer and indeed, that's what they've done. The fact that they will find a few billion dollars to get the Americans involved in COVAX to provide vaccines for low and middle income countries. Certainly, a positive from my perspective, the kind of leadership you'd want to see from the US. You don't want to only see the Chinese taking the lead, the Indians taking the lead and providing vaccines internationally. You want the Americans doing more.
I liked the idea of going to the Russians offering a five-year extension of the START nuclear arms deal. No, we don't trust each other. No, we don't like each other, but there's still areas we need to work together. And avoiding mutually assured destruction strikes me as pretty much the top of that list. And the Russians initially, at least the response has been reasonably positive. Won't stop there from being additional sanctions from the US because of the Navalny arrest and the thousands of arrests and I'll talk about that in a second. Beyond that, in terms of the initial phone calls, Biden foreign leaders starts with Canada, Mexico, and the UK, the three countries that truly have no choice, but the United States. The closest, most interdependent relations with the United States among major economies in the appropriate order, Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. They all went extremely well and there was nothing particularly surprising or uncertain around it.
Then French President Emmanuel Macron. And I am sure if I have missed it in the last couple of hours of call it, the German Chancellor and the Japanese Prime Minister should be following in very short order. That's again, as close to normalcy in terms of foreign policy as one can get. There's really a message being sent that this is business as you remember it, it's business as usual, it's business as we saw under Obama and Biden. That's again, given the level of volatility and the indifference to foreign actors. When you put forward America first as your brand, that's not hard to do, but let's keep in mind that under Obama and Biden, the United States was criticized as leading from behind, was losing influence internationally. And so, the honeymoon, I think with this Biden approach, if it is meant to be consistent with Obama, Biden is probably going to be pretty short and won't get them as far as they would like it to get.
Didn't get himself in trouble on Iran. I thought that was positive. Certainly, there are a lot of potential critics saying he just wants to get back into the Iranian nuclear deal with no changes, and they're not going there and they're not biting. Despite the fact the Iranian foreign minister said, "Let's meet now." And the fact that the Iranians are also starting to enrich at higher percentage, their uranium, which means moving closer to a nuclear breakout capabilities on weapons. That's a big deal, but they have to be cautious. It shouldn't be seen as the top priority. And it's not so far, I give them pretty good marks on that. The 1.9 trillion, this is the big issue, of course, domestic issue is how do you respond to the further relief, which is required so many small and medium businesses, for so many members of the working class, for so many unemployed in the United States?
I do believe that they will get close to that number. It will be over 1.5 trillion, it'll happen by April, even though it probably will have very bipartisanship in the House and Senate, that's okay. It's better than governing in every way by executive order, but it just shows how divided the United States is in this period of maximum crisis. A place where I'd be much more critical was on the 100 million vaccines, the rollout in the first 100 days. The criticism that there was no Trump plan, but the fact is that by the end of the Trump administration, you had 940,000 vaccines being delivered on average every day. You're saying over three months, you can't get any better than that? That implies that you're not coming in with a plan. And they've had months to put a plan together. I suspect this is under promise and try to over-deliver.
And it's also, they don't necessarily have a great plan together yet. And that's a place that we're going to watch very carefully, but the Americans should do better over the coming months, and the Americans should be careful about over criticizing operation Warp Speed and vaccine rollout under the Trump administration. Lots of places where the Trump administration failed, vaccines, in my view, not one of them, certainly in terms of initial production and distribution at the federal level. At the state level is a different story. But the state level is going to be a problem for Biden going forward too. The US is a federal system.
And then finally the fact that Biden hasn't weighed in particularly on impeachment, probably smart, because impeachment is not going to lead to conviction in the Senate. That feels pretty clear at this point. I hate to say this, but as bad as January 6th was, it wasn't enough of a crisis to make people respond to it. It was normalized by certainly most Republicans and even some Democrats who were saying, "Look, we just want to move on and start governing again." And that means politics of obstruction. It means divisiveness. It means Trump's not president anymore. So, let's not deal with that. But it also means there were no consequences for the actions that were taken, and I think that's a really big problem. So anyway, that's kind of where we are.
Quick Take, Part 2: Pro-Navalny Russian protests & Putin; AMLO's COVID Diagnosis
Ian Bremmer: Pro-Navalny Russian Protests & Putin | AMLO COVID Diagnosis | Quick Take | GZERO Media youtu.be
Russian opposition leader Navalny in jail. Hundreds of thousands demonstrating across the country in Russia over well over 100 cities, well over 3000 arrested. And Putin responding by saying that this video that was put out that showed what Navalny said was Putin's palace that costs well over a billion dollars to create and Putin, I got to say, usually he doesn't respond to this stuff very quickly. Looked a little defensive, said didn't really watch it, saw some of it, but it definitely wasn't owned by him or owned by his relatives.
And in the investigation itself, it said it was actually in a holding company by people linked to the Kremlin as opposed to Putin himself. But the hundred million people that have watched it, don't find Putin very credible on this. The interesting thing is the Kremlin clearly sees Navalny as a threat. They're responding in a more defensive way than I've seen the Kremlin respond to really anything since Putin has been president on the domestic front. And I don't know if that means that they can't kill him while he's under detention or whether they feel like they have to. Certainly, it makes it much harder for them to let him go. I think it makes it more likely that he's detained for a longer period of time or he's convicted of some ginned-up crimes. But the influence that he has across the country is actually growing.
And that probably means a harder fist from the Russians in the kind of response to local opposition. Keep in mind the economy's not doing very well. Nobody's is, but Russia's in particular right now, and Putin's approval ratings are not what they were when he first annexed Crimea for example.
Final point Mexico, you may have seen the news, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the president has contracted COVID. So many world leaders have come down with it. Even with the most extraordinary capacity to try to protect these people, coronavirus is incredibly transmissible. And a lot of these leaders in the governments aren't taking it as seriously as they should. That certainly is true of the Mexican president or the Brazilian president or the American president or the UK prime minister. All of whom have gotten coronavirus, though, I would say the French president's taken it quite seriously and he still got it.
But specifically in Mexico, this is important because Lopez Obrador himself controls so much of the decision-making in the country. There's no real functioning cabinet in Mexico, it's all the Mexican president. And the direction and the details of policy in Mexico are not about his ministers, it's about him. So, if Trump had been incapacitated for a few weeks, it wouldn't have much impact on American policy. He didn't do it.
In Brazil, same thing. All the economic policy was largely given to the key ministers Bolsonaro Doesn't really understand economic policy. In Mexico, whatever you think of Lopez Obrador, he's doing it. And so if he's laid up for a long time or in the worst case, if he dies, this is actually going to be a really significant problem for the Mexican government, where there is no obvious successor and very little capacity for governance outside of the Mexican president himself. Let's keep in mind, he's 67 years old. He had a heart attack in 2013 and supposedly suffers from hypertension. So, you put all that together, this is actually something to watch. He gets the best medical care of anybody in Mexico, but it's still something to be concerned about and I suspect we're going to see market reaction to that.
So that's a little bit from me, hope everyone is safe. Please avoid people. Be good and I will see you real soon.
As part of our special "In 60 Seconds" series on Japan's domestic and international response to the pandemic, GZERO Media spoke to Dr. Satoshi Ezoe, Director of the Global Health Policy Division in Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Dr. Ezoe breaks down his nation's contributions to multilateral efforts like the COVAX facility and the ACT Accelerator program and describes their impact on the developing world. He also details Japan's commitment to universal health care and how that policy and infrastructure have benefited the nation during the pandemic. "Japan in 60 Seconds" is produced in partnership with the Consulate General of Japan.
This video is sponsored by the Consulate General of Japan.