What is 'vaccine nationalism?' Experts explain threat to fair distribution of COVID-19 shots

The race by individual countries to secure as much vaccine stock as they can has triggered the label, vaccine nationalism.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- While the first vaccinations against COVID-19 are beginning in some countries, there is growing concern about how long much of the world might be left behind.

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An international vaccine alliance is now sounding the alarm about projected shortages in at least 70 countries, where fewer than one in ten people might be able to receive the shot in the foreseeable future. A potential lingering crisis, that won't recognize borders.

"This is a highly transmissible virus. We don't and can't live in a cocoon and think that protecting ourselves will serve us well in the end," says Stanford immunology expert Dr. David Relman, M.D.

Dr. Relman says the race by individual countries to secure as much vaccine stock as they can has triggered the label, vaccine nationalism.

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"A situation where nations are likely going to turn to protecting their own and in doing so tend to grab the resources that are available," Dr. Relman explains.

And evidence suggests the stage is already set.

According the People's Vaccine Alliance, which includes groups like Amnesty International, and England's OXFAM, the wealthiest countries have bought up more than half of the most promising vaccines, for a fraction of the worlds' population.

During his recent Vaccine Summit, President Donald Trump also threatened to use emergency laws to keep supplies from American companies in the U.S. If there's a shortage.

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"If for any reason we have any problems, we will be instituting the defense production act," the president said.

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The President's stance follows his decision earlier this year to withdraw the U.S. From the World Health Organization. The U.S. is also one of the major countries not participating in an effort known as COVAX, to ensure the distribution of vaccines to impoverished or developing nations.

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UCSF infectious disease expert Doctor Monica Gandhi believes the position is short sighted.

"It's incredibly important for the United States to rejoin the World Health Organization, and rejoin organizations that help equitable distribution of vaccines. Actually none of us is safe until everyone is safe," Dr. Gandhi points out.

At least one vaccine maker, Oxford-Astrazeneca has pledged to make more than half of its products available to developing countries on a not-for-profit basis. Still other advocates have called on all manufacturers to suspend their patents and allow the vaccines to be produced worldwide.

Still, as the first doses roll out, many may be watching for signs from the incoming Biden administration, on the future of America's traditional leadership role in world health.

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