- On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced that the United States will not join an effort led by the World Health Organization that aims to find and distribute a coronavirus vaccine.
- So far, 172 countries have expressed interest in the initiative, but the U.S. response has been criticized as “vaccine nationalism.”
- In part, the W.H.O.-led effort seeks to ensure that poorer countries will also have access to vaccines based on their case-load.
- One major problem that could arise is a U.S. hoarding of vaccines. If that were to be the case, many Americans would likely still be vulnerable to international cases, as the first approved vaccine will likely not offer full protection.
U.S. Won’t Join W.H.O. Vaccine Efforts
The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it would not be joining a World Health Organization-led effort that seeks to find and distribute a coronavirus vaccine around the world.
“The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus,” White House spokesperson Judd Deere explained, “but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.”
Deere’s comment fall back on an argument that the Trump administration has made for months: the W.H.O. is too “China-centric.” In July, the Trump administration formally began the process to withdraw from the W.H.O. because of such criticism.
So far, 172 countries have engaged in discussions to participate in the W.H.O.-led vaccine effort, known as the COVAX initiative.
That program aims for several outcomes, with the ultimate goal of distributing 2 billion doses of safe and effective vaccines by the end of next year.
One of the main objectives of the Covax effort is to avoid a situation where vaccine access is limited to countries that have either produced the vaccine or can afford to buy large quantities.
For example, Covax aims to distribute vaccines based on population size, prioritizing health care workers and vulnerable people. It also plans to set aside a portion that can be sent to hot spots if they should arise.
The idea of the initiative is that such a method will allow wealthy and middle-income countries to help fund the development of at least nine current vaccine candidates, while also allowing poorer countries to receive vaccines based upon need. By doing this, the Covax effort hopes to avoid repeating what could essentially be a much more deadly repeat of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, which was hoarded by rich countries.
“Vaccine Nationalism” Criticism
While rich countries such as the United Kingdom and Japan have expressed interest in the initiative, the U.S. now faces criticism and concern over its decision to opt out the effort.
Experts have chiefly pointed to one of two scenarios.
The first, which is unlikely but still possible, would be that none of the U.S. candidates are viable, leaving the United States with no option because it shunned the Covax effort.
As The Washington Post describes it, this could prove to be a potentially risky move because “it eliminates the chance to secure doses from a pool of promising vaccine candidates.”
Kendall Hoyt, an assistant professor from Dartmouth’s School of Medicine, told The Post that such a move is like deciding to opt out of an insurance policy. Hoyt argued the U.S. could be pursuing bilateral deals with drug companies while participating in Covax at the same time.
According to reports, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar had expressed interest in bringing the U.S. into the Covax effort, but that failed after he was met with resistance from government officials who argued that the U.S. already had enough coronavirus vaccine candidates.
The second outcome is that the U.S. does develop an effective vaccine but hoards it, vaccinating a large number of Americans — including those at lower risk of catching or contracting a particularly bad case of COVID-19 — while leaving other countries without.
Of course, many would ask: shouldn’t the U.S. take care of its own citizens first? The problem, according to experts, is that the first vaccine approved in the U.S. likely won’t offer full protection. That means some Americans might still be vulnerable to imported cases.
In other words, experts say that the less people who receive the vaccine internationally, the greater the risk of the coronavirus spreading even more in the U.S.
On top of that, U.S. economic recovery is also going to depend on economic recovery in other parts of the world. There, many have pointed back to a statement last month from the W.H.O. Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who warned against “vaccine nationalism.”
“For the world to recover faster, it has to recover together, because it’s a globalised world: the economies are intertwined,” he said. “Part of the world or a few countries cannot be a safe haven and recover.”
Still, the Trump administration has defended its efforts to continually distance itself from the W.H.O. For example, it has argued that the U.S. is akin to an airplane passenger securing its own oxygen mask before helping others,
“You put on your own first, and then we want to help others as quickly as possible,” Food and Drug Administration senior official Peter Marks said in June.
However, as columnists for Foreign Affairs argued, “The major difference, of course, is that airplane oxygen masks do not drop only in first class — which is the equivalent of what will happen when vaccines eventually become available if governments delay providing access to them to people in other countries.”
When Could A COVID Vaccine Come?
One of the lasting questions of the pandemic is: When will the public start seeing vaccines being made readily available?
Unfortunately, that answer is still unknown, but two major health officials have recently suggested that a vaccine could come early.
On Sunday, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told the Financial Times that the FDA might authorize a vaccine before Phase 3 trials are completed.
“It is up to the sponsor to apply for authorization or approval, and we make an adjudication of their application,” Hahn said. “If they do that before the end of Phase 3, we may find that appropriate. We may find that inappropriate. We will make the decision.”
To be clear, Hahn’s language here is fairly specific. It will almost certainly fall under the umbrella of “if the benefits outweigh the risks.” Nonetheless, the news was significant if for no other reason than Hahn indicated that the agency was willing to potentially make such a move.
Then, on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told Kaiser Health News that clinical trials could be stopped early if they provide overwhelmingly positive results that show a vaccine is safe and effective.
Fauci said scientists would have a “moral obligation” to make the vaccine available to all participants in the study if that were the case, thus speeding up that vaccine’s ability to hit the public.
Neither Fauci or Hahn’s comments have come without some level of concern. Many worry that both could be influenced by President Donald Trump’s rush to make a vaccine available. Last month, Trump even suggested that a vaccine could be ready as early as Election Day in November.
As far as Fauci’s comments go, the body that has the power to end trials early is the Data and Safety Monitoring Board. Notably, it is independent and not controlled by the executive branch. In fact, its members are not even government workers. Because of that, Fauci said any decision the board makes isn’t going to be influenced by the president.
Hahn has also denied that the FDA will submit to pressure from the Trump administration, but concern that Trump is pressuring the FDA to give the green light on unproven coronavirus treatments is nothing new.
Last week, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for plasma recovered from COVID patients despite concerns that plasma might not be as effective as Trump had indicated. In fact, on Tuesday, the National Institutes of Health stressed that there is “insufficient data” to show whether plasma is or isn’t a safe, effective treatment.
Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena
The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.
Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.
The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.
In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.
Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.
Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee.
That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.
After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.
Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.
Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts
The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.
It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same.
The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively — are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.
Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.
As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.
Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)
Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December
The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.
Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily
The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.
The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.
After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.
The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday.
The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.
“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.
The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession.
Major Hurdles Remain
While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.
Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain.
Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.
Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.
Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.
Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.
Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.
In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul.
As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported.
It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent
California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.
Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.
Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.
“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.
Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.
Others May Follow
The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.
Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.
“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.
“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”
The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.