Baker emphasizes that the urgency for sharing intellectual property is greatest in the areas of public health and environment. If, say, a Chinese engineer develops a “new way to store energy, we should want the whole world to get that as quickly as possible,” Baker told me. And Baker’s solution is elegant: governments should buy the rights for the vaccine (or the expert manufacturing technique or the long-life battery) from corporations and make it open access. If they won’t sell, governments should buy the ideas from corporations’ scientists and engineers. “Five million a month for ten months, that would be a fantastic deal,” Baker said. “Would Pfizer really want to bring that lawsuit?”
Russia and China have been criticized for using the distribution of their own vaccines to garner good will with other countries. “The best way to counter that is, why don’t we give our vaccines?” Baker said. The United States could be gaining good will around the globe by overseeing a coordinated effort to make the vaccine more accessible and affordable for everyone. But as distribution stands now, it may take years for herd immunity from vaccination to reach those in poorer countries. Some experts have begun to say that, in this current environment, herd immunity is impossible.
Diplomacy is great, but saving millions of lives is better, particularly when (almost certain) good will is attendant. But the millions of saved lives should always be our focus and indeed our humane objective, attendant good will or not. This should be the new and present standard for American leadership and diplomacy: saving lives as if the ones beyond our borders mattered every bit as much as our own.
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