My sophomore year, I took an apocalyptic literature class called “The End of the World,” and for an assignment, we were asked to write an essay realistically predicting how the world would end based on the novels we read. I predicted the world would end due to a pandemic — not only due to the hypothetical virus itself, but I predicted that modernized countries like the United States would not offer timely help to the Global South due to selfish and prejudiced attitudes. You can imagine my surprise when just a semester later, the COVID-19 pandemic began.
While the essay topic was somewhat of a coincidence, the sentiment itself was not. If the 18th-century novels I was reading had enough of these prejudices in their fictional stories about pandemics, I wasn’t far off to predict that places like the United States and United Kingdom would selfishly aim to protect their own. I also wasn’t wrong when I surmised that this selfishness would affect us for the worse, allowing any potential virus to spread further. At this very moment, COVID-19 is ravaging the population of India. Although President Joe Biden has made promising initial steps to assist India at this time, the United States needs to export vaccines quickly to put a stop to this mass death.
Currently, there are extreme shortages of testing kits, hospital supplies and vaccines in India. These shortages are in part caused by a sudden resurgence of COVID-19 infections and deaths due to viral mutations which are increasingly pathogenic and resistant to vaccines. This variant is worrisome for many scientists, as its continued spread could lead to a resistance to existing vaccines and a second wave of outbreaks globally. If not for basic morals, this is yet another reason the United States needs to export ready-to-use vaccines to India as soon as possible.
Though the Biden administration highlights a redirection of vaccine-manufacturing supplies originally intended for the United States to India, which they claim is enough to manufacture “over 20 million doses,” providing readily available vials of COVID-19 vaccines is the faster and necessary option. Each vial takes approximately three days to manufacture and quality control takes weeks, while packaging can take another two days. With upwards of 386,000 new infections and 2,000 deaths each day, this process is not fast enough.
On top of this record-breaking daily infection rate, the number of deaths and infections is grossly underestimated. Multiple health care and cremation workers have attested to the fact that they face pressure from politicians or hospital administrators to manipulate or underreport testing and death numbers. Perhaps this is due to the fact that in April when the pandemic appeared to be coming to an end, politicians like Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted several massive rallies without proper social distancing or masks. With an estimated peak infection rate approaching within the next week, India is in dire need of assistance.
The United States should especially be willing to export a greater number of vaccines given India’s initial assistance when American hospitals were strained earlier in the pandemic. Biden has tweeted acknowledging this repayment, stating “India was there for us, and we will be there for them.” Prime Minister Modi has also come under fire for India’s original vaccine diplomacy, which involved the exportation of 11 million doses of vaccines between January and April of this year, despite the crisis within his own country. This critique may be valid, but it is not an excuse for the U.S. to withhold vaccine exportation. If anything, Americans should empathize with India and recall our own experience regarding former President Donald Trump’s gross mishandling of a deadly pandemic.
My call for increased assistance on behalf of the United States is shared by several political leaders. I am surprised by Biden’s recent decision to waive patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines, but agree with Charles Michel, European Council president, that this is not the “magic bullet” for a short-term solution. Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, also claims that a debate on the property rights surrounding vaccines should not be our current priority — it should be saving lives. Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, says, “We invite all those who engage in the debate of a waiver for [intellectual property] rights also … to be willing to export a large share of what is being produced in that region.”
Clearly, European Union leaders are in agreement. Vaccine exportation is the only way to end this pandemic for good. Failing to send immediate assistance threatens our country as much as India, but this should not be the only motivating factor for exportation. The United States needs to enact empathetic and preemptive measures in this pandemic, which necessitates global cooperation. I echo the words of several world leaders when I say that “Nobody is safe until everyone is safe.”
Kaitlyn Liu is a junior majoring in English and is assistant Opinions editor.