Health officials in San Diego proposed donating COVD-19 vaccines near expiration to Mexico in late October. The plan, however, was derailed by federal law, which states that the federal government is solely responsible for donation efforts surrounding the vaccines. White House officials told The Washington Post that since vaccines are federal property, “the federal government is liable for their use.”
Health officials noted the benefits of donating to nearby communities with lesser vaccine access as compared to the U.S. The plan would have also eased the ache felt by medical providers when disposing of unused doses.
It is understandable why the federal government wants to find an all-encompassing solution before allowing others to make such large-scale decisions. However, doesn’t the authority of ownership completely undermine the point of a donation?
Several healthcare professionals have had to look for solutions for the health crisis under the watchful eyes of federal government agencies, which often try to enforce arbitrary rules and regulations. But after some time, the decision-making should be left to those that have been preparing for such a catastrophe for years. If the vaccines were given to a specific county or healthcare facility, it means that those entities are the ones responsible for effective usage of the doses — not a government that is situated 2,600 miles away. The name on the vaccine dose doesn’t include a country or person, and if we’re looking for the technicalities of ownership, the government would have to consult each vaccine manufacturer about whether or not they approve of every distribution and donation.
UC San Diego Health Director of Pulmonary Critical Care Dr. Jess Mandel told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the “current policy does not make sense” since any and all donation efforts would truly only be effective if they were focused on localized solutions. Those in the area who administer the doses would know the rates of the increase or decrease in the region’s vaccine supply and demand, and they would be aware of how time and distance would affect their ability to await any orders. The primary goal of any healthcare provider should be to help provide borderless healthcare rather than healthcare simply for the American people. Furthermore, they should allow local communities and counties to decide where and how their remaining, near-expired doses are distributed after they have served their population. Doing so would ensure that the community can share extra supplies with those in need in the most efficient and timely manner.
This system of putting America first is not new. There has been criticism surrounding the decision to already offer booster shots in the country while other nations remain widely unvaccinated. Sharing vaccine supplies wouldn’t just help other populations — it would help Americans, too. By creating more friction in the economy, vaccine supply-sharing would not only allow a larger portion of the global population to work beyond their current capacities; however, it would also increase travel and strengthen relations that may have diminished since the start of the pandemic.
Additionally, since the American goal for donations has increased, why shouldn’t local efforts for aid also be allowed to continue? The tension lies within the production process. Moderna has concerns that its own costs would increase if asked to step up production to help increase donations. However, helping people shouldn’t be a question of profit — it should be a question of principle. While the world is in a stage of interdependence and necessity, there is no time to stress about protocol or uniform enforcement of rules. This should be a time to worry about our own humanity and whether or not we are doing enough for others after we have done more than enough for ourselves.
As the U.S. enters a state of controlled normalcy, many lower-income countries are far from even dreaming of such a point. Instead, they must wait for the arrival of vaccines before even attempting to loosen restrictions. It is time to question why the U.S. basks in its export restrictions from the comfort of its own manufacturing facilities. Vaccine inequality is real and is growing by the day. If medical officials can do their part in decreasing it, they shouldn’t be stopped.
Nandini Sharma is an Opinion Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.