India is prominent in the news right now, as it has become the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide. Rhetoric from the Biden administration might lead people to believe that resolving the crisis in India is a top priority. As thousands of people die each day in India and the United States restricts all travel from the country, however, it turns out that Biden’s support for vaccine nationalism is fueling the crisis.
Biden has promised aid to India in the form of personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, test kits, and other supplies — but without vaccines, that essentially slaps a band-aid on the problem. There are two actions the United States could take, though, that would make a serious dent in the spread of the pandemic in India.
First of all, the United States — and other wealthy countries, for that matter — could share the millions of vaccines they have hoarded. As vaccines first became available, the United States, wealthy European countries, and Canada quickly bought up 82 percent of Pfizer’s production and 78 percent of Moderna’s supply — enough for these countries to vaccinate their entire populations at least three times over. This is grotesque given the increasingly dire need India now faces. Biden, though, refuses to distribute vaccines to India.
The United States could even help India without sending any of its stockpile to India. Biden could issue an executive order to release the patents on “intellectual property” that allow for-profit pharmaceutical monopolies to keep their compounds and production methods to themselves. That would enable countries to manufacture generic versions of the vaccines and roll them out quickly to their suffering populations.
Why won’t the Biden administration take these two easy steps? Biden is protecting the interests of U.S. capital. As always, prioritizing private economic interests comes at the direct expense of semi-colonial countries.
India is just the most recent of many countries in the global south where the rapid spread of Covid-19 could be prevented if capital’s interests weren’t put first. Research suggests that under the capitalist system of vaccine production and distribution, many countries will be unable to vaccinate a significant portion of their populations before 2024. That delay not only means death and suffering for the world’s most vulnerable people that could have been avoided, but it also allows more mutations of Covid-19 to emerge, potentially making the vaccines available in wealthy countries less effective.
A continuation of capitalist vaccine production and distribution also means the world will be unprepared to respond to the next pandemic.
No matter how much posturing Biden does about his “concern” for the people dying in India, his actions and inaction shows where his interests really lie.