More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.
When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.
Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic
600 million people worldwide have already received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but about 75% of those doses were given in only ten countries. Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, explains why the pandemic will not effectively end even in the world's richest nations until it is curtailed in its poorest. "A new variant that is less susceptible to the immunity that's brought about by vaccines or that's more transmissible or makes people more ill could easily then spread, in fact, to people in parts of the world where there have been large numbers of people vaccinated and where they think that they are then immune." Dr. Swaminathan discusses the urgent need to distribute vaccines worldwide in an interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.
Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic
Vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens before the rest of the world, has been effective for rich nations like the United States and Israel. But leaving behind so much of the global population isn't just a humanitarian issue. It could prolong the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization's Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, who argues that what the global vaccination effort most urgently lacks are doses, not dollars. In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, she calls for a large increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and suggests we may be seeing alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.
Ian's Quick Take:
Hi, everybody. Happy Monday. Good to see everyone and got a Quick Take for you as we kick off this week. Thought we would talk today about Brazil. It is the epicenter today for coronavirus. The healthcare system in the country is getting overwhelmed. Over 90% of ICU beds are filled in most of the states in the country. As a consequence, you are triaging healthcare. This is what you remember happened briefly in Northern Italy at the beginning of the pandemic a year ago. It's what we feared could happen in New York City, though never quite did. You've got nearing 4,000 deaths a day in Brazil right now, per capita that's worse than anything we've seen in the United States. And yeah, we blame the government. We blame President Bolsonaro.
And you know, in part, this is someone who like former President Trump said, don't worry about this. It's just a little flu, was telling the population that we don't need lockdowns. We don't need quarantines. He didn't want to wear a mask. He didn't like social distancing. And as a consequence, all of that became deeply politicized across the country in Brazil as well. Those governors that engaged in lockdowns were sharply criticized for it. And a lot of people weren't wearing masks. A lot of people didn't take it seriously. Bolsonaro, of course, got COVID himself. He said hydroxychloroquine was a miracle cure. He even questioned the vaccine at the beginning, said that it was dangerous, potentially you can't trust the health care companies. He sits tilted on that as his popularity has gone down significantly. And as a consequence, he's more worried about finishing out his term and being able to win a second term late next year with elections.
But all of this has gone very badly in the country. And indeed, as a consequence of all of that, Brazil today is feeling a lot like the United States at the end of last year, massively politically divided with the potential for impeachment efforts against Bolsonaro that would be incredibly divisive. And with a president who could easily lose reelection, but will not accept that outcome and will claim that he has indeed won. Now, last week was a watershed in that regard. You saw six members of the Brazilian cabinet suddenly removed, including the Minister of Defense replaced with a Bolsonaro loyalist and the three heads of the military services very unhappy about that. Threatening to resign, they're fired the next day.
Does this mean that Brazil is heading for a coup or revolution? The answer is no. It's actually similar to the United States in the sense that the senior military leadership in the country is independent and would not support loyalty to Bolsonaro, no matter what. And the judiciary in the country is still largely independent. These institutions are stronger than what you see in most developing countries around the world, but they're not as strong as the United States. And the fact is that if Bolsonaro were to go down the path of "burn it all down" and "these elections are no good," and "this impeachment is completely unacceptable," if that were to occur, you would get members of state police. You would get low-level members of the military that could come out in support, the former military member, Bolsonaro, himself with a lot of former military around him as senior advisors. So the potential for major social unrest and for a lot of violence is greater than what we saw in January 6th in the United States.
Although, the likelihood that Brazilian democracy is suddenly going to fall apart in my view is just as remote as it was in the United States. This is a deeply, deeply problematic leadership. There's an incredibly divided country. Next year's elections are going to be easily as ugly, maybe even worse than last November's in the United States, and are likely to be very severely contested. So, I mean, if Brazil was the largest economy in the US like the United States is, this would be our top risk out there. Because it's just the largest economy in South America, it's a big deal. It deserves to be talking about it, but it's not the top risk globally.
The funny thing is I have not been universally critical of Bolsonaro because on some counts I've been more sympathetic. For example, economically as much as he is a knee jerk, hardly expert reactionary on a bunch of things, he allows his economic team to take the lead on issues that he doesn't know anything about, whether it's pension reform or tax reform or micro economic reform. A lot has actually gotten done in Brazil over the course of the last couple of years. On climate, Bolsonaro is widely criticized for being one of the worst climate skeptics, climate deniers in the world.
And I obviously think that's a horrible thing, especially when you see all this clearcutting happening in the Amazon forest, but I'm sympathetic for a middle income economy, where the wealthy countries in the world suddenly say, why aren't you doing anything to save your environment? When for decades, we were paying no attention to it. We were, of course, emitting massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. We had no problem with exploiting global economies, including Brazil, for our own benefit. And Bolsonaro's basically saying, look, if you want us to pay attention to climate, pay us. Now that this matters to you, how about taking some of the equity here and giving it to the average Brazilian. Something that's very popular inside Brazil, that almost any Brazilian leader would be aligned towards.
But when it comes to responding to the worst crisis that we have seen in our lifetimes, Bolsonaro has been the worst leader of any major economy in the world. No, he's not the former Tanzanian president, Tanzanian President Magufuli, who's now dead of COVID. No, he's not Belarusian dictator, Lukashenka, who said, take a sauna, drink some vodka, and you'll be fine. But of the G20 economies, he's the worst. He's the worst by far and Brazil's suffering for it. And I feel really badly about that. And I hope, I hope, I hope vaccine rollout will happen quickly in Brazil, but so far not so fast, not the United States. They don't have the drug companies, they don't have the infrastructure. They aren't able to pay the money for the vaccines, the way the advanced countries have. And so, as a consequence, the Brazilian people are really suffering. So that's a little bit for me this week. Everyone be safe, avoid fewer people. I'll talk to you all real soon.
It wasn't long ago that the US and UK were the big losers of the developed world for their incompetent and politicized handling of the pandemic. Cases and deaths were surging even as their leaders diminished the threat of the disease.
Germany, meanwhile, was seen as a model of responsible pandemic management. Chancellor Angela Merkel's compassionate, pragmatic leadership, combined with respect for scientific expertise and general adherence to public health recommendations, had kept virus numbers low.
Six months later, the tables are turned — while the US and UK are poised to turn the corner with strong vaccine rollouts, the wheels are coming off in Germany.
A third wave is building fast. The 7-day average of new cases in Germany has nearly doubled since March 6th, to almost 16,000. The arrival of the more contagious B.1.1.7 "British" variant is thought to be a major reason why. Chancellor Angela Merkel summed things up in stark terms last week: "We have a new pandemic."
An abysmal vaccine rollout has made things worse. Only 13 out of every 100 Germans have been vaccinated so far, barely a third of the clip in the US and UK. In part, critics say, that's because Merkel opted for a convoluted EU-wide vaccine purchase strategy rather than using German economic muscle to negotiate the best deal for her country. That left Europe's most populous country with a supply shortage to begin with.
But a bad rollout plan, which relied on specific distribution sites rather than family doctors, made it hard for people to find shots. And confidence-killing whiplashes on the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Germany's main jab, have hamstrung the uptake as well.
Lockdowns, meanwhile, are becoming untenable. After months of winter restrictions, people and businesses are getting antsy as spring approaches. Last week, Merkel and the heads of Germany's 16 states agreed to extend current measures and to apply extra curbs during next week's Easter Holiday. But after a weekend of protests and backlash from churches and businesses, Merkel on Wednesday abruptly dropped the Easter plan, saying it was unveiled with too little notice. She asked forgiveness for the "mistake."
This is hurting Merkel and her party politically. While she is still one of the more popular elected leaders in the world, her support has plummeted almost 10 points since the start of the year to 51 percent, while her disapproval rating is as high as it's been since last March. Her one-time Wunderkind health minister Jens Spahn, who was so popular last year that he reportedly floated making a run for the Chancellorship, now has a disapproval rating of 60 percent.
Meanwhile, support for the CDU's governing alliance with its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, is down to 28 percent today after polling in the mid-30s for most of the past year. A recent drubbing in key local elections -- coupled with a growing scandal over two CDU/CSU lawmakers taking payments to arrange government contracts for face masks — has added to the sense that Merkel and her party are losing control of the positive narrative in Germany.
A rocky spring ahead of a decisive autumn. All of this heightens growing doubts about who will be in charge in Germany after general elections in September. Chancellor Merkel is stepping down after 16 years in power, but is banking on her continued popularity to nudge her preferred successor, CDU chief Armin Laschet, to the top of the polls.
If enough voters decide they've seen enough of the CDU/CSU government, which has dominated modern Germany's political history, Germany could be in for a potentially unwieldy coalition that includes the Greens, center-left Social Democrats, and market liberal Free Democrats, all of whom are gaining support at the moment.Can Merkel still right the ship? Angela Merkel has risen to the challenge of crises before, but with the clock ticking until her exit, can she do so again? For better or for worse, we've seen that a lot can change in six months of pandemic time.
Netherlands votes: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is slated to win a fourth term in office as polls show his People's Party for Freedom and Democracy on track to win a clear victory. While Rutte has been caught up in a political maelstrom in recent months — his government was forced to resign in January amid a scandal over childcare benefits, while the Netherlands has also been rocked by sometimes violent anti-lockdown protests — polls showed that he was set to win around 36-40 seats (76 are needed for a majority), an even bigger win than he saw in 2017. But forming a coalition could be trickier. Rutte says he will not work with Geert Wilders and his anti-Islam and anti-immigrant Freedom party, the second largest force in parliament. As a result, Rutte will likely need to join forces with three other parties — drawing from the Christian Democrats (left wing), D66 (progressive liberal), Labour, Green Left and the Socialist party — to form a government, a process that could take many weeks given the ideological diversity of the political blocs.
Taiwan's vaccine diplomacy: Taiwan has offered Paraguay, the only country in South America that recognizes its independence from China, assistance to procure COVID vaccines. This comes as nations in the region become increasingly reliant on Chinese-made jabs, and as Paraguay itself has seen mass street protests and growing calls to impeach President Mario Abdo over his handling of the pandemic and slow vaccine rollout. Paraguay is now in a tough spot: it wants to maintain warm ties with Tapiei and desperately needs more jabs, but has also increasingly struggled to counter growing political pressure at home to drop its recognition of Taiwan and instead establish bilateral ties with the People's Republic of China in exchange for Chinese economic assistance (the lower house of parliament approved it last year, but senators voted against the move). We're watching to see how this all pans out, and if Taiwan can help Paraguay find enough vaccines to prevent China from coming in to save the day and conquering its last holdout in South America through its vaccine diplomacy.Foreign meddling in US 2020 election: US intelligence believes that Russia attempted to influence the outcome of the US election in 2020, hoping to lock in another win for Donald Trump. A new US government report also notes that Iran sought to help Joe Biden get over the finish line — who has said he wants to reenter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — and that China considered meddling in the vote but ultimately decided not to interfere to avoid "blowback." While neither the Russians' nor the Iranians' actions were sufficient to affect the result, according to US intelligence, there's still a lot to be concerned about. First, it's clear that foreign attempts at meddling in US elections are here to stay. Additionally, it's also apparent that Russia now views the benefits of stoking the flames of US political division by trying to influence American voters as outweighing the risk of more US sanctions. Moving forward, the onus is now on the Biden administration and US Congress to safeguard future elections knowing that foreign powers will surely again try to sway American voters.
One the many reasons Fauci offers: "One of the most common is they say, 'Well, it was so fast.' We always talk about vaccines requiring years to develop...And when we explain to people that this is just a reflection of the exquisite advances in the science of vaccine platform technology and immunogen technology...we can win more people over than you can imagine." Dr. Fauci also tackles the question of when, and how, to start exporting vaccines abroad.
Watch the GZERO World episode: Dr. Fauci's Pandemic Prognosis