We Passed an American Rescue Plan. Next Up: The Global Rescue Plan | Opinion

Now that it has shepherded through the nearly $2 trillion American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration needs to pivot to help rescue the world from COVID-19.

It's been a year since the pandemic shut down the planet.

The novel coronavirus has killed over 2.5 million people and paralyzed the world economy, causing a contraction of global GDP of over 4 percent. In comparison, the financial crisis of 2008-2009 shrank the global economy by only .1 percent.

With its stimulus package and its ramped-up vaccination program, the U.S. government is well on its way to economic recovery and achieving herd immunity in 2021. In his prime-time speech this month, the president set July 4 as a goal for the return of some semblance of normalcy.

Other rich countries are not far behind, together administering COVID vaccines at a rate of one per second over the last month and expecting positive economic growth this year.

And yet many developing countries haven't administered a single dose of the COVID vaccines.

Vaccine inequality is intimately connected to economic inequality. Countries with a large percentage of vaccinated citizens can restart their economies. Developing countries, meanwhile, have taken on perilously high debt to deal with the pandemic, and many face bankruptcy. COVID-19 has further widened the global divide between rich and poor.

With its direct relief payments, child tax credit, pension relief and health care expansion, the Biden administration's $1.9 trillion stimulus package directly addresses the economic inequality that the pandemic has accentuated in the United States. Now it has a responsibility to address global vaccine inequality in the same way.

An act of international cooperation at this scale is the right thing to do morally. But it's also in the U.S. self-interest.

If the pandemic continues to rage in pockets around the world, it puts everyone else at risk as well. New strains of the disease might emerge that can elude existing vaccines. Global supply chains continue to be threatened by COVID-19, and so are the travel and the hospitality industries. The bankruptcies of debt-burdened countries put global finance at peril as well.

Restricting access to vaccines could cost rich countries an estimated $4.5 trillion in lost income in 2021, according to the International Chamber of Commerce.

Vaccine
A pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine. JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration has made a lot of noise about returning to the international community after four years of MAGA navel-gazing. It has rejoined the World Health Organization as well as the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) program, promising to deliver the $4 billion that Congress allocated to COVAX in December.

But that's not enough.

COVAX doesn't even have enough money to meet its modest goal of vaccinating 20 percent of the populations of participating states by the end of this year. And the Biden administration recently rejected the French call to send 5 percent of vaccine stockpiles to Africa.

Meanwhile, the United States and other rich countries have practically cornered the market on vaccines, buying enough to inoculate their populations several times over.

Compared to the cost of the American Rescue Act—or regular massive expenditures like the Pentagon budget—vaccinating the world comes cheap. The bill for a global vaccination campaign is just $25 billion.

This cost could be offset by making sure that the vaccine know-how is distributed patent-free so developing countries can access the drugs faster and in bulk. Pharmaceutical companies are already set to make a healthy profit from COVID-19 vaccines. Pfizer, for instance, is expected to earn $4 billion in profits from $15 billion in sales of its vaccine.

Governments should have no compunction about pushing to remove intellectual property barriers given how much they have invested in the research and development of vaccines.

If the Biden administration can't be convinced to support a Global Rescue Plan on the grounds of morality or self-interest, then perhaps the popularity of such an initiative will be persuasive. In a recent YouGov poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans wanted drug companies to share the vaccine patent-free with the rest of the world.

The American Rescue Act is an extraordinary shot in the arm for the American economy. Now, at a vastly lower cost, the Biden administration needs to help get shots into the arms of the rest of the world. Until that happens, neither the United States nor any other country will truly get back to some semblance of normality.

John Feffer directs the Foreign Policy In Focus project at the Institute for Policy Studies. He's the author of the book The Pandemic Pivot.

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