A person gets a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination of BioNTech and Pfizer in Mainz, Germany.(Reuters)
A person gets a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination of BioNTech and Pfizer in Mainz, Germany.(Reuters)

Now that Covid-19 vaccines are coming, what about poor countries?

If all countries cooperate, the world can achieve an optimal outcome and defeat the pandemic soon and decisively. If they don’t cooperate, Covid will drag on and there’ll be many more deaths.
By Bloomberg | Posted by Shivani Kumar
UPDATED ON DEC 05, 2020 04:55 PM IST

It’s now just a matter of weeks before shoulders are bared, syringes primed and vaccines injected. If last year was the one that gave Covid-19 its name and 2020 was defined by masks, gowns and swabs, 2021 will be the year of the vial.

This being a pandemic (from the Greek word for “all people”), that welcome development presents all the usual problems of global differences in wealth, power and equity. Rich countries have already placed their orders. Poor countries can only hope not to be left out. What should be done?

The question doesn’t just tap into the debate between nationalists and multilateralists that polarizes many Western countries. It’s also a timeless ethical conundrum. In a famous dialogue by Plato, an Athenian macho named Callicles argues that justice is merely the law of nature — meaning, of the strong. In our pandemic context: Why wouldn’t politicians in rich countries buy up the vaccines and give herd immunity to their own electorates first?

Click here for complete Covid-19 coverage

Socrates, in that conversation, counters that justice demands cooperation and a view that encompasses strong and weak alike. Translated for today: The world is better off sharing vaccines because survival shouldn’t depend on where you live.

But this purely moral case isn’t the only one to be made for cooperation. It turns out that multilateral sharing of vaccines would also save many additional lives.

A lab at Northeastern University in Boston has modeled two counterfactual scenarios of what would have happened if a vaccine had been available in March 2020. In one, the first two billion doses are snapped up by rich countries, while only the remaining billion are allocated among all others. In the second, all three billion are distributed from the start to all countries in proportion to their populations.

In the first or “uncooperative” case, the vaccine would have averted 33% of global deaths through Sep. 1. In the second or “cooperative” scenario, it would have prevented 61%. That’s a lot of lives saved — even in countries that would have had the vaccine in either scenario.

The situation is therefore a bit like the famous Prisoner’s Dilemma in game theory. If all countries cooperate, the world can achieve an optimal outcome and defeat the pandemic soon and decisively. If they don’t cooperate, Covid will drag on and there’ll be many more deaths. The dilemma is that each individual country also has an incentive to “cheat,” relying on others to do the sharing while snatching all the doses it can. But this leaves the others even worse off than if no one cooperated.

In game theory, the various outcomes can be tweaked by changing the mathematical parameters. And this — at least in my interpretation — is what the Eurasia Group, a geopolitical risk consultancy, is now trying to do with a new report commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The nonprofit is a lead sponsor of the ACT-Accelerator, a collaborative effort between governments, companies, scientists, and philanthropists, to get tests, treatments and of course vaccines to developing countries.

The idea is that rich donor countries pitch into a pot that funds distribution in poorer nations. But donor nations have so far ponied up only $5.1 billion. An additional $28.2 billion is needed to deliver the shots and other tools as they become available. How can we get all prisoners in this dilemma to cooperate?

By showing them that any money paid in will earn them a huge return with no downside, Eurasia Group’s report implies. The group has analyzed the geopolitical and economic costs to rich countries if the pandemic were to rage on in poor ones. These include the obvious — the impact on the Japanese economy of the Summer Olympics being cancelled, say — and the oblique, such as the effects on international demand for German exports or U.S. fracking gas.

Overall, Eurasia Group found that the economic benefit of controlling the pandemic everywhere would be $153 billion next year for the ten top donor nations, or $466 billion over the next five years. That’s more than ten times the amount ACT-Accelerator asks for. Moreover, if you compare the ACT-A pot to the gargantuan domestic stimulus programs rich countries have passed, it starts looking almost trivial.

Rich countries have a lot of big decisions to make in the coming weeks — whether and how fast to approve which vaccine, how to allocate scarce shots in the domestic population, how to fight disinformation by anti-vaxx conspiracy theorists, and so forth. These fights may get nasty, as I predicted in July.

But the decision about whether to include poor countries in our common human struggle against a pandemic shouldn’t be so hard. If there’s any good argument for not fully and immediately funding the ACT-Accelerator, I have yet to see it.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
app
Close
Indian-American Neera Tanden, nominated by Biden as the Director of Office of Management and Budget at the White House, said she is honored to be part of the Biden-Harris administration.(AP)
Indian-American Neera Tanden, nominated by Biden as the Director of Office of Management and Budget at the White House, said she is honored to be part of the Biden-Harris administration.(AP)

Indian-American lawmakers say Biden, Harris will heal America

PTI, New York
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 10:43 AM IST
Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents California’s 17th Congressional District, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, said he cannot stress “what an amazing moment this is for our community and for the multi-racial democracy in America.”
Close
President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for national intelligence director Avril Haines arrives for a confirmation hearing before the Senate intelligence committee.(AP)
President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for national intelligence director Avril Haines arrives for a confirmation hearing before the Senate intelligence committee.(AP)

Avril Haines is first official member of President Joe Biden's cabinet

ANI
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 10:35 AM IST
The US Senate on Wednesday (local time) confirmed Haines for director of national intelligence.
Close
Joe Biden taking oath as US President during the 59th presidential inauguration in Washington, DC.(Bloomberg)
Joe Biden taking oath as US President during the 59th presidential inauguration in Washington, DC.(Bloomberg)

Taiwan's 'de-facto' ambassador to US attends Joe Biden's inauguration

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 10:29 AM IST
Taiwan's foreign ministry said it was the first time an inauguration committee had formally invited the country's representative in Washington.
Close
Authorities are asking people to stay home during the Lunar New Year holidays in February as part of the efforts to prevent another debilitating outbreak.(REUTERS)
Authorities are asking people to stay home during the Lunar New Year holidays in February as part of the efforts to prevent another debilitating outbreak.(REUTERS)

China to impose virus testing on Lunar New Year travellers, cases rising

Reuters, Shanghai/beijing
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 10:05 AM IST
Millions of residents in Hebei province surrounding Beijing, the northeastern Jilin province and Heilongjiang have been put into lockdown in recent weeks amid what is the worst wave of new infections since March 2020.
Close
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during the 59th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Biden will propose a broad immigration overhaul on his first day as president, including a shortened pathway to U.S. citizenship for undocumented migrants - a complete reversal from Donald Trump's immigration restrictions and crackdowns, but one that faces major roadblocks in Congress. Photographer: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo/Bloomberg(Bloomberg)
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during the 59th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Biden will propose a broad immigration overhaul on his first day as president, including a shortened pathway to U.S. citizenship for undocumented migrants - a complete reversal from Donald Trump's immigration restrictions and crackdowns, but one that faces major roadblocks in Congress. Photographer: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo/Bloomberg(Bloomberg)

Biden bets big on immigration changes in opening move

AP, San Diego
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 10:03 AM IST
The new president dispelled any belief that his policies would resemble those of former President Barack Obama, who promised a sweeping bill his first year in office but waited five years while logging more than 2 million deportations.
Close
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Maryam Nawaz termed the case as the 'biggest fraud in Pakistan's history'. (AFP)
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Maryam Nawaz termed the case as the 'biggest fraud in Pakistan's history'. (AFP)

Pak election commission issues notices to 19 political parties

ANI, Islamabad
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 09:33 AM IST
This comes after separate rallies led by different constituent members of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) held a protest outside the ECP against an 'unacceptable delay' in the PTI foreign funding case.
Close
U.S. President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, after his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States, U.S., January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner(REUTERS)
U.S. President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, after his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States, U.S., January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner(REUTERS)

US to re-enter Paris Agreement: All you need to know about climate accord

By hindustantimes.com | Edited by Karan Manral
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 09:31 AM IST
President Joe Biden, on his first day in office, reversed his predecessor Donald Trump’s order to exit the treaty.
Close
Graciela Uraga, left, a cleaning lady, and Blanca Cedillos, a nanny, react as they watch Joe Biden's presidential inauguration from the Workers Justice Center, an immigrants rights center, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York. Cedillos admitted to being "nervous" when the speech started, but after the speech, said she was disappointed Biden didn't mention immigration reform. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)(AP)
Graciela Uraga, left, a cleaning lady, and Blanca Cedillos, a nanny, react as they watch Joe Biden's presidential inauguration from the Workers Justice Center, an immigrants rights center, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York. Cedillos admitted to being "nervous" when the speech started, but after the speech, said she was disappointed Biden didn't mention immigration reform. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)(AP)

Immigrants feel positive about reforms to immigration rules under Biden

AP, Homestead, Florida, Us
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 09:20 AM IST
  • Biden also issued executive orders reversing some of former President Donald Trump's immigration policies, such as halting work on a US-Mexico border wall and lifting a travel ban on people from several predominantly Muslim countries.
Close
Presidents and their families may accept gifts from US citizens as long as they don’t violate conflict-of-interest or bribery laws.(AFP)
Presidents and their families may accept gifts from US citizens as long as they don’t violate conflict-of-interest or bribery laws.(AFP)

Trump Discloses $40,000 in Gifts Received During Final Year

Bloomberg
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 08:45 AM IST
Former US President Trump accepted more than $40,000 in gifts in his last year in office, including freebies from executives of the Boeing Co., Apple Inc. and Ford Motor Co.
Close
Biden on Wednesday signed 17 executive orders memorandums and proclamations including ending the Muslim travel ban.(AFP)
Biden on Wednesday signed 17 executive orders memorandums and proclamations including ending the Muslim travel ban.(AFP)

Biden signs order to end Trump's Muslim travel ban

ANI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 08:35 AM IST
Implemented in 2017 during Trump's first week in office, the Muslim Ban initially restricted travel from seven Muslim-majority nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Close
President Joe Biden speaks during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the US Capitol in Washington.(AP)
President Joe Biden speaks during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the US Capitol in Washington.(AP)

Biden's first foreign leader call will be to Canadian PM Trudeau: White House

ANI
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 07:56 AM IST
The call will likely take place on Friday, informed White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki while holding the Biden administration's first press briefing.
Close
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during the 59th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Photographer: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo/Bloomberg(Bloomberg)
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during the 59th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Photographer: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo/Bloomberg(Bloomberg)

Where Biden stood, reminders of a failed insurrection

AP
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 07:52 AM IST
Unlike Donald Trump's 2017 inauguration, which featured a speech that promised an end to decades of “American carnage," Joe Biden returned again and again to a theme of national unity.
Close
Vaccine is administered against the coronavirus (Covid-19) disease.(HT Photo)
Vaccine is administered against the coronavirus (Covid-19) disease.(HT Photo)

LIVE: Germany records 20,398 new Covid-19 cases as tally reaches 2.08 million

By hindustantimes.com
UPDATED ON JAN 21, 2021 10:49 AM IST
The global caseload of Covid-19 is closing in on the 97 million mark while death toll is at well over 2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University tracker.
China's State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The foreign ministry said that anti-China politicians in the US have "undermined China's interests, offended the Chinese people, and seriously disrupted China-US relations".(REUTERS)
China's State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The foreign ministry said that anti-China politicians in the US have "undermined China's interests, offended the Chinese people, and seriously disrupted China-US relations".(REUTERS)

China sanctions Pompeo, 28 other US lawmakers, for disrupting relations

ANI, Beijing
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 07:01 AM IST
The Ministry said that anti-China politicians in the US have "planned, promoted and executed a series of crazy moves which have gravely interfered in China's internal affairs.
Close
China denies human rights violations and says its actions in Xinjiang are necessary to counter a separatist and terrorist threat.(AFP File Photo )
China denies human rights violations and says its actions in Xinjiang are necessary to counter a separatist and terrorist threat.(AFP File Photo )

Explainer: What's next after US accused China of genocide

AP, Beijing
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 06:58 AM IST
China strongly defends its human rights record and policies in Xinjiang, saying its constitution and laws treat all citizens equally. It denies imposing coercive birth control measures or forced labor.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP