U.S. Should Give Global Vaccine Effort a Shot in the Arm | Opinion

President Joe Biden recently pledged to donate 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to developing countries over the coming year. The European Union also promised 100 million doses. The announcement is welcomed news.

The fight against COVID-19 is a tale of two worlds. In the United States, case counts have plummeted to the lowest level since March 2020, thanks to plentiful vaccines. Well over half the population has now received at least one vaccine dose.

Meanwhile, cases are soaring in India, where only 18 percent of the population has received at least one dose. The world's largest democracy is still recording roughly 50,000 daily infections, down from a May peak of approximately 400,000 daily cases but still much too high. And with many of those infections caused by the new, deadlier Delta variant, the mortality rate remains staggeringly high. The nation is losing 1,400 people a day—and those figures are widely believed to be underestimates.

Helping vaccinate India and other developing countries is our moral duty. It's also in our own best interests. A reopened American economy can't fire on all cylinders if our trading partners are still in lockdown. And if the virus keeps circulating in the developing world, there's a risk that vaccine-resistant variants will emerge and once again threaten Americans' lives and economic well-being.

This is an opportunity to show our allies, our rivals and everyone in between the best of America. The immeasurable humanitarian benefits aside, sharing the fruits of America's technological, economic and political power with a suffering world would also be a strategic and diplomatic masterstroke.

Our legacy of international leadership is on the line. China has "donated" its inferior vaccines to dozens of desperate countries—often in exchange for major diplomatic and economic concessions. But those nations are so desperate, they're welcoming even this self-serving outreach.

Aside from the obvious moral imperative for the developed world, if China works to rescue COVID-19 stricken countries while we do not, the balance of strategic and diplomatic power in the world will continue to shift against us. Given these stakes, it makes sense for the Biden administration to donate every dose we can spare—and also take other urgent actions to get shots into arms everywhere on the planet.

Medic prepares COVID-19 vaccine
A medic prepares a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

For instance, we can work with the World Trade Organization to correct or bypass bottlenecks in global supply chains, especially for raw materials needed to make vaccines. We need to help buy and supply the necessary refrigeration equipment so that vaccine doses manufactured in the United States can still be effective when they arrive on other continents. We should increase funding for COVAX, the international project coordinating the distribution of tens of millions of vaccine doses.

These solutions may not grab headlines, but they will work right now. Allowing the World Trade Organization to nullify intellectual property protections on vaccines will not increase short-term production, because companies are already partnering with qualified facilities across the planet to safely manufacture vaccines as quickly as possible.

Developing countries need assistance overcoming the actual barriers to vaccination—like a lack of refrigeration, inadequate roadways in remote areas and a shortage of nurses and other health and social workers capable of bringing people back for their second shots.

Tragically, in late April, the Democratic Republic of Congo decided to return 1.3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to COVAX because officials knew that they wouldn't be able to safely administer doses before they expired in June.

The United States is uniquely situated to solve these practical, logistical problems. We have the resources to deliver vaccines, supplies and support everywhere in the world. And doing so will reassert America's position as the world's indispensable leader in human rights, ingenuity and progress.

We must rise to this challenge. The world has too much to gain—and the United States too much to lose—for us to not get shots into every unvaccinated arm as soon as possible.

Howard Dean is the former chair of the Democratic National Committee and former governor of Vermont.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.