Changes in the U.S pandemic approach
Joe Biden is now the new president of the USA, assuming responsibility for both the largest economy, and the country with by far the greatest number of COVID cases, in the world. So what’s going to happen now? Will the two-trillion-dollar COVID relief and stimulus plan he’s proposing work? Or will he, like his predecessor Donald Trump, fail to rein-in a pandemic still spreading like wildfire? Dennis Carroll, former head of the pandemic programme for the USA’s international development department, told Phil Sansom why the situation in his country matters even to those outside it...
Dennis - The United States accounts for, what, 5% of the world's population. Yet we account for 25, 30% of all of the transmission that's going on in the world today. You know, it's important what's going on in the United States, not because it's the United States. What's important is that there are 330 million people in this country. And right now the virus has free rein to go anywhere and infect anyone, almost. That leaves the rest of the world vulnerable, because we've seen new variants of this virus are emerging and these variants are really a reflection of how many people have been infected, and how many opportunities this virus has had to replicate. And in the United States, right now, we're seeing a greater frequency of replication, just by the sheer number of people who are infected. We do not have a system to look for new variants.
Phil - Could you then talk me through Biden's strategy as he's communicated it?
Dennis - Well, first and foremost, he signed a series of what are called executive orders, taking steps to ensure that we would maximise the distribution and availability of the vaccine. He has put very much in play, 100 million Americans being vaccinated within the first 100 days of his presidency. And he is making sure that there's both the logistics, and the necessary training available to ensure that the infrastructure to deliver these vaccines are in play, and that people have access to them. He made Dr. Anthony Fauci, his chief medical advisor, and Tony Fauci immediately took steps to signal to the World Health Organisation, that the US has rejoined the WHO, reaffirmed our commitment and our support for WHO, but in particular, signal the US commitment to be a partner in COVAX. The international effort led by WHO, and Gavi, and UNICEF to make equitable access of vaccines to countries around the world.
Phil - You said a hundred million vaccinated in the first a hundred days. That's almost a third of the US population. Isn't it?
Dennis - 100 million people is essentially one third of the American population, but they'll also need a second dose. So it's basically saying that there'll be 1 million people vaccinated per day. And in fact, when you look at the numbers, there has been a dramatic uptick just in the last five days. And we've been averaging somewhere on the order of about 1.2, 1.3 million vaccinations per day. But let's also be clear, if you're vaccinating 1 million people a day. By the time we get to the end of 2021, we'll only have three quarters of the American population vaccinated, fully vaccinated with two doses, meaning that the ability to have some measure of normalcy, stretches beyond this particular year.
Phil - The USA is obviously a very corporate country and nowhere is that more evident than with healthcare. And so when it comes to giving out the vaccine, are the hundred million people who hopefully get it in the first hundred days, are they going to be the people that can afford it, or the people that need it?
Dennis - Well, first and foremost, the vaccines will be made available at no cost, a number of corporate entities have stepped forward, to say they're prepared to bring the full force of their corporate capabilities to support the distribution of this vaccine. Major corporations like Walgreens and CVS, that have primary access to pharmaceutical goods across the United States. We've similarly seen Amazon say that they're prepared to use their logistics distribution capabilities. So it's a very positive step forward, particularly in terms of addressing some of these issues about equitable access