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U.S. Won’t Join WHO-led Effort to Find and Distribute Coronavirus Vaccine

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  • 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.

See what others are saying: (Axios) (CBS News) (NBC News)

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Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade

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The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.


Mississippi’s Abortion Case

Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.

After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.

Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.

When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.

As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.

When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”

But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

New Filing Takes Aim at Roe

With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.

“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.

“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers. 

“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.

“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”

The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.

An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.

See what others are saying:  (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Politico)

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Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks

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The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.


Pelosi Vetoes Republicans

Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.

In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”

Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden. 

A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.

The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.

In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”

Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.

McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation

McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.

In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.” 

“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.

“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”

Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel. 

“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)

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More Republican Are Pushing COVID Vaccinations, But the Party Remains Divided on Its Messaging

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The renewed effort to encourage vaccination comes as the surge in COVID cases caused by the delta variant continues to disproportionately impact Republican-led states with low vaccination rates.


GOP Leaders Ramps Up Vaccination Push

In recent days, more Republican leaders and prominent conservatives have ramped up efforts to encourage members of their party to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the U.S. continues to see massive surges from the delta variant.

Some, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have been pushing Americans to get vaccinated for months — a call he reiterated again on Tuesday. Many others, however, have been reticent to do the same until recently.

Most notable on that list is Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the no. 2 Republican in House leadership, who just got his first dose over the weekend after resisting vaccination, claiming he had antibodies from previously contracting COVID. Scalise explained he changed his mind because of delta and encouraged others to do the same.

“There shouldn’t be any hesitancy over whether or not it’s safe and effective,” he said.

The top leader is set to continue pushing that advice. Earlier this week, the GOP Doctors Caucus announced that it would hold a news conference Thursday alongside Scalise and the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), to encourage vaccination.

Rank and File Republicans Continue To Cast Doubt, Spread Misinformation

There are still plenty of Republicans working to undermine the renewed push to get their party vaccinated.

While many have painted vaccination as a matter of freedom of choice, others have sought to downplay the virus. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state currently accounts for 40% of all new COVID cases, dismissed the spikes as the result of a “seasonal virus” on Monday.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk — who has had COVID twice — echoed that in a statement to reporters on Tuesday, where he argued that COVID is just something everyone has to live with.

“This is something we deal with in our lives on a daily basis; ever since I’ve been born, there’s sicknesses, there’s flu, there’s different diseases,” he said.

Some members of the GOP have used their positions of power to actively fight against vaccination. That includes Sen. Ron Johnson (Wi.), who has openly said he is not vaccinated. He has also been widely condemned for promoting unproven treatments and false information about vaccines during interviews and congressional hearings.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly refused to share her vaccination status, has also drawn ire for sharing misinformation and continually comparing COVID prevention efforts to the Holocaust.

Greene was temporarily suspended from Twitter earlier this week for sharing false information on Monday, but she continued to utilize her spotlight to spread misinformation about vaccine-related deaths and side effects during a press conference the following day.

Uphill Battle

While those who downplay the coronavirus and spread false information about vaccinations are certainly not representative of the entire Republican Party, they are some of the most visible.

Greene and many of her counterparts who push anti-vaccine narratives have frequently been accused of acting in inflammatory ways to get more press — a strategy that more often than not tends to work in their favor. 

As a result, Republicans who want to encourage people to get the jabs will have their work cut out for them. Even many of those who have not openly expressed skepticism themselves have still let it flourish in the party for so long by not publicly pushing back against claims from members who sow disinformation.

The GOP’s broader failure to unify around a singular message on vaccines shows clearly among the party’s base.

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News, poll 86% of Democrats have received at least one shot, but just 45% of Republicans have done the same. While just 6% of Democrats say they are not likely to get the vaccine, 47% of Republicans said they probably will not, and 38% said they definitely will not. 

Meanwhile, Republican-led states with low vaccination rates are suffering the most from the new spike in cases and the rapid spread of the delta variant. 

Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country at just 35%, is currently reporting the highest per-capita cases in the U.S. Hospitalizations have gone up 85% in the state in the last two weeks, placing some hospital systems on the brink of collapse — a problem also faced by parts of Missouri, which has the third-highest COVID cases nationwide.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Hill)

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