Rashid: To Defeat COVID-19, We Need a United International Effort

A relative of a person who died of COVID-19 breaks down during cremation in Jammu, India, Sunday, April 25, 2021. India’s crematoriums and burial grounds are being overwhelmed by the devastating new surge of infections tearing through the populous country with terrifying speed, depleting the supply of life-saving oxygen to critical levels and leaving patients to die while waiting in line to see doctors. (AP Photo/ Channi Anand)

By Qasim Rashid

April 25, 2021

That’s why we need to help India get its current COVID-19 spike under control, Qasim argues.

More than a year into the pandemic and one lesson should be crystal clear. Infectious diseases don’t recognize local, state, national, or international borders. Diseases like COVID-19 will spread at the speed of the fastest jet engine carrying people around the world. This lesson should teach us that whether we like it or note—our future as humanity is tied together.

Therefore, we must work together to end this pandemic, and the record breaking COVID-19 spike in India is that opportunity to work together. Nations can seal up their borders, block all movement, and refuse entry—but infectious diseases will still find a way to spread.

That’s what diseases do. The point is not to condemn fact based travel restrictions to prevent the spread of a deadly disease, but to implore a unified international vaccine distribution. That means waiving all COVID-19 vaccine patents and ensuring free and easy universal distribution.

Something to Think About

Consider this. Only 2 months ago in late February, India averaged about 100 deaths per day and about 11,000 infections per day. Prime Minister Modi was lauded as a ‘vaccine guru’ for his work in decreasing COVID-19 numbers. India had not eradicated the disease, but took the dropping numbers as a sign to open up.

This was, to put it lightly, a massively irresponsible decision. Now in late April, India is suffering 2200 deaths per day and 310,000 infections per day. And if this spike isn’t frightening enough, the spread is still rapidly accelerating. The only and most logical solution to this is to waive vaccine patents and ensure every Indian has access.

With 1.4 billion people, India is nearly 1/5th of the world’s population. It is a global hub for business and travel. Unless we immediately mobilize every resource possible to stop the currently spiking rates, we risk another massive global wave of COVID-19. This would be a wave that potentially brings new mutations, for which our current vaccines are not equipped to handle.

Will COVID-19 Have an International Impact?

Should that happen, it will necessarily have a worldwide devastating impact. Those in power must stop thinking in terms of dollars and cents and start thinking in terms of human dignity and saving human life. And it isn’t only India. Dozens of developing nations still have no access to vaccines due to cost limitations. Under this deadly pandemic, they are ticking time bombs waiting to go off, unless we ensure they have vaccine access.

But even for the capitalist purists out there who exclusively think in terms of dollars and cents, waiving the vaccine patents is the logical option. In the United States, we’ve already seen the financial devastation from shutting down or limiting our national economy when we didn’t have the vaccine. We’ve exerted more than $8 trillion to try to revive our economy.

Now imagine that type of devastation on a worldwide scale. The reality is, we don’t suffer from a lack of resources. We suffer from an excess of greed. As a nation and as a world, we must lift any and all bans on vaccine distribution and make it available and accessible worldwide.

An Opportunity to Lead

President Biden has done a superb job domestically, exceeding 200 million shots in arms within his first 100 days in office. Now, he has an opportunity to lead internationally as well. Fortunately, President Biden has already committed to deploying generous medical resources to help India. This is an important step forward.

But as this is a global pandemic with global implications, the reality remains that none of us are safe unless all of us are safe. America has an opportunity to reclaim its leadership on a world stage and come to India’s aid, and indeed to the world’s aid.

The Biden administration should continue to push for a vaccine patent waiver. Doing so will save both human life and our future economy on a worldwide scale.

Qasim Rashid is a human rights lawyer, author, and Truman National Security Project Fellow. Follow him on Twitter @QasimRashid.

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