U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration announced on Tuesday it will steer clear of a multilateral effort to accelerate COVID-19 vaccines and guarantee all nations have fair and equitable access.
The multilateral effort known as the COVAX Facility is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the World Health Organization, both based in Geneva, along with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI, based in Oslo, Norway.
More than 170 countries are considering signing on as participants. Last month, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus invited all 194 WHO member nations to join the effort.
Tedros denounced what he calls “vaccine nationalism” — a race among major powers to be the first to develop and distribute a coronavirus vaccine — and said nations must pull together and stop competing over access to a potential COVID-19 vaccine if they want to beat the pandemic.
Major U.S. allies including the European Union, Germany and Japan support it. However, the Trump administration gave notice to the United Nations in July that it was starting a formal withdrawal process from WHO mainly based on political grievances with China.
Now, it will opt out of the COVAX Facility, in a decision first reported by The Washington Post.
“The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus, but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China,” Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson, said in a statement.
“This president will spare no expense to ensure that any new vaccine maintains our own FDA’s gold standard for safety and efficacy, is thoroughly tested, and saves lives,” he said, referring to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
It is only by working together that we can defeat #coronavirus.
We need an inclusive international approach and as we are showing today, Team Europe is committed to ensuring the success of the #COVAX Facility.
— European Commission 🇪🇺 (@EU_Commission) August 31, 2020
Rushing the process
Trump’s disregard for multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and NATO is a hallmark of his presidency. He withdrew support and funding from numerous international organizations and treaties that work to provent everything from nuclear arms to global warming to human rights abuses.
The decision to steer clear of the COVAX Facility also reflects his bet on the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed that has invested in six separate efforts to accelerate the development of coronavirus vaccines. The Trump administration hopes to begin mass inoculations by January.
On Monday, Trump offered “a brief update on the China virus” by noting that AstraZeneca, in partnership with the U.K.’s Oxford University, has begun Phase 3 trials of an experimental coronavirus vaccine in the United States.
Vaccine candidates by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech also have reached Phase 3 trials in the U.S. Such trials typically take years to complete, but drugmakers, while promising to uphold scientific integrity, are nonetheless rushing to test candidates as part of processes that risk becoming politically driven.
Fast-track efforts in nations such as China and Russia have raised safety concerns. In the U.S., FDA guidelines say COVID-19 vaccine developers should monitor patients over an additional one to two years after approval. Yet the White House trumpets its skepticism of the scientific community.
“This is a process that would have taken, in some cases, years, and we did it in a matter of months,” Trump told a press briefing. “Thanks to the efforts of Operation Warp Speed, we remain on track to deliver a vaccine very rapidly, in record time.”