The Indicator from Planet Money - Sharing The Vaccine

The biggest, wealthiest nations in the world are in a race to produce a coronavirus vaccine. It's obviously in a country's interest to win that race and protect its citizens. It's also in its interest to share.

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Hey mon is Cardiff. This is indicator from Planet Money. Imagine that it is 6 months from now or maybe 12 months in a US pharmaceutical company has successfully discovered a vaccine for Coronavirus. Try to all the vaccine candidates right now across the whole world and is more than a hundred and fifty of them the first one shown to work happens to belong to an American company and it's time to start producing That vaccine on map to get everybody immunized in that case the US government might do all I can to make sure that everyone in the u.s. Is immunized first as quickly as possible before the vaccine is shared with other countries and it sounds like it would make perfect sense. I mean the US government is accountable first two US citizens not to the rest of the world. But according to trade Economist Chad Bown that would be a big mistake because we live in such an interdependent World both economically and socially it

It's actually not in our best interest to only think about vaccinating ourselves. But to try to figure out a way that we can share vaccines with with basically the entire world that turns out to be in our own best interest along with Thomas boike. Chad has a long new article in foreign affairs magazine titled the tragedy of vaccine nationalism explains why that is so today on the show. We speak with Chad about his argument that an agreement between countries to share a vaccine would be not just good for the world. But also for a few kind of surprising reasons good for the country does managed to invent a successful vaccine first that is coming up right after a quick break.

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Shut down welcome back to the indicator for having me a part of the argument you make is that actually coming up with a vaccine and then scaling up its production is super complicated and involves all these other countries in the first place. Even if the vaccine is first discovered in one country and you just try to immunize everybody in that country first, right? Yeah. So I think the first important thing to know about vaccines that I think many people don't know and I didn't know before I started working on this is it only a handful of countries around the world have the ability to produce vaccines there very very sophisticated manufacturing processes. You need billion-dollar facilities that have all kinds of quality controls in them require all types of fancy equipment. And then of course, you know the scientist that they're going to get you there, but then it also is going to require inputs and at this stage we still don't even know yet what the vaccines are going to look like. The science hasn't answered that question, but the

Could require input that we don't have locally here in the United States that we can only get from other countries are materials that are required for most vaccines that might have to be sore store and bought from other countries and you give this kind of great example of this compound that comes from Chile and then is processed in Sweden that is used in most vaccines. That's really interesting yet. So there's this Edgmont called for the chili bar chi in the chili. So, you know that this kind of the only place in the world you can find it. It's processed in Sweden. Now neither of those two countries interesting ly neither of them actually manufacture vaccines, but if you're going to be manufacture a vaccine somewhere else you may need access to you. No to that process. It's kind of like a chemical thing to help make the vaccine work until that means you're relying on stuff coming out of chili or coming out of Sweden if you want to make a vaccine at all.

That's not that's not it right there. Lots of chemicals that goes into these things. But you also made need things like, you know, the biles a little glass bottles are are syringes. Lots of little types of component parts in inputs that kind of can't fully think through all the stuff that you might need until we know what the scientists have told us. The vaccine is ultimately going to require this kind of brings up the possibility that let's say hypothetically in the US we discovered the vaccine first and we hoarded we do not share the vaccine with other countries that might need it that might want it. There could be the possibility for a backlash from these other countries that control those inputs. So for example, Sweden could say yeah, forget it. We're not going to export to you this adjuvant that you need for the vaccine unless you agree to share the vaccine with us and and with Europe, right exactly. If all of a sudden we were decided that we wanted to just start hoarding and keep it off ourselves other countries could essentially play the same.

Amen and hoard the inputs. And so we wouldn't be able to actually make the vaccine in the first place in and we'd all be worse off and then it might also lead to this kind of siloed pursuit of all these materials of all the supplies and not using the vaccine in the most efficient way globally, right? Because all the countries are trying to get the the vaccines and the supplies and hoard them. It means that like you'll just have these sort of pockets of immunization rather than spreading the immunity around the world in a way that turn gets everybody healthy the quickest what we're seeing right now is government's doing a bit of that. They're they're trying to buy up everything but they can think of that they might need to be able to make these vaccines the problem. There is your bidding up you're competing against each other and bidding up the prices of those things sort of unnecessarily, you know, that wouldn't be the case. If you were cooperating that means taxpayers are ultimately going to end up paying a lot more than they would otherwise and it's ultimately

Lead to shortages, you know pain in certain places where the vaccine is is ultimately not going to be able to be developed even though the science might be there for that for them to be able to do so nice of what happens. If one country again, let's say the US does successfully immunize itself, but does not share the vaccine with other countries. There are consequences to the US economy itself of other countries remaining sick of still remaining, you know, under lockdown because of the pandemic there are major major Economic Consequences, obviously the first and most important reason we want to share is the public health, but even just thinking about the economics for our economy here in the United States to run we need access to you know, lots of the inputs things that we buy from other countries to be able to manufacture things here. So think about the automobile industry, right? We we buy a lot of you know engines and tires and things from Mexico if the Mexican

Tamia shut down because they're still suffering under the pandemic. We can't get the part that we need. Our factories can't run. Also, we want to export to the world, you know, we need to export cars need to export airplane and if there's no foreign demand because their economies are growing because they're still suffering under under the pandemic. We're not going to be able to be growing as as much as we would be able to otherwise and that of course we want to be able to get outdoors and it is huge. We want both. You note it to go visit other places, but we want other people to be able to to leave their countries and come here. And if not, everybody has been able to receive the vaccine and entreat the pandemic that's going to result in in travel restrictions. And also just put a huge cramp on a huge chunk of economic activity as well question of how do you do it better? What is a way to get other countries to commit in advance to get all countries to commit in advance to share a vaccine given

Right. Now there's not a lot of trust between countries especially between the US and China between the US and Europe when it comes to trade. So how do you get that commitment in advance? This is a huge be important point. There is virtually no trust. We saw this early on in the pandemic. We saw countries already imposing export restrictions not willing to sell you no personal protective equipment and ventilators and that kind of stuff that to their to their trading partners hoarding it in the concern is that the same thing would happen or will happen once once we actually develop a vaccine but I'm convinced that you know, you could actually come up with a vaccine trade and investment kind of an agreement of Cooperative agreement the government could sign up to what they just realize how interdependent we are. I think there's one other component to this as well, which is even if we here in the United States discovered the first vaccine what the scientists in other contexts have taught us is that the first vaccine isn't

Necessarily the best vaccine the subsequent vaccines which may be developing some other country may turn out to be better. They may be easier to administer. They may last longer there may be fewer side effects and we may want access to that one to here in the United States in the problem is if if we shut off the world from our initial vaccine in a better one comes along, you know sometime down the line the rest of the world may be unwilling to share their has with us.

Tie-down. Thanks so much. Thanks for having me this episode of the indicator was produced by Brittany Cronin indicators editor is Patty Hearst and the indicator is production of NPR.
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