On Tuesday, September 2, the Trump administration announced that the United States will not participate in a global effort to develop, manufacture, and administer a successful COVID-19 vaccine given that the initiative is tied to the World Health Organization (WHO). This news comes as the latest indication of the Trump administration withdrawing the country from the international health community’s response to the pandemic due to political concerns. Judd Deere, a spokesman for the White House said the following to justify the decision: “The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.”
After praising both China and WHO at the pandemic’s start, President Trump reversed roles and accused WHO of initially helping China cover up the extent of the coronavirus pandemic, in early April. He called out the UN agency, saying they “called it wrong” on the virus and that their approach was “very China-centric.”. About a month later, in late May, the Trump administration announced that they are terminating the United States’ relationship with WHO and that all U.S. directed funds towards the agency will be frozen. This had a shocking impact on the organization’s funding as the US was the biggest donor and a major funder of vaccine initiatives, providing $419 million annually.
The COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) Facility which is co-led by WHO, is aiming to speed the development of a vaccine and distribute over 2 billion doses of it to the highest at-risk regions of each country by 2021. The facility announced that they plan to secure AstraZeneca or Novavax’s candidate vaccines if the Phase 3 trails by those companies are successful. The report also stated that the maximum price of each dose would be no more than $3. Last week, many U.S. allies announced their support for the plan, including Japan, Germany, and multiple members of the European Union. Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, who recently resigned from his position due to health concerns, announced that the country’s partnership with WHO and Covax will allow coronavirus vaccines to be secured for all citizens by the first half of next year.
With over 170 countries planning to participate in the Covax Facility with WHO, the US.’s decision to withdraw from the efforts could influence the future of the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, the World Health Organization has warned against “vaccine nationalism,” advising that more developed countries not keep treatments to themselves because they cannot expect to remain safe from the virus if poor nations still remain exposed to it. While some members of the Trump administration were interested in working with WHO more cooperatively, they were eventually overruled. Alex Azar, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, said that he had “interest in exploring some type of role in Covax… but there was resistance in some corners of the government.” Other members of the administration, however, believe that the US has enough coronavirus vaccine candidates in advanced clinical trials; they think that the country can go without the help of the UN agencies and other countries. Nerissa Cook, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Affairs, explained the White House’s position: “WHO needs to be reformed and that starts with demonstrating its independence from the Chinese Communist Party. For now, we’re advocating to see some very strong management [from the agency] and higher focus on the prevention and detection of the pandemic.”