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Joe Biden Has Blood on His Hands

By being so slow to act on global vaccine distribution, Biden is letting people die.

Joe Biden gives his first joint address to Congress at the Capitol building.

Here is a section from Joe Biden’s joint address to Congress on Wednesday night (you can find the full transcript here):

There’s no wall high enough to keep any virus out. And our own vaccine supply, as it grows to meet our needs — and we’re meeting them — will become an arsenal for vaccines for other countries, just as America was the arsenal for democracy for the world. And in consequence, influenced the world. Every American will have access before that occurs, every American will have access to be fully covered by Covid-19 from the vaccines we have.

Just on paragraph, but what a fascinating one, because it contains all of the pernicious little things that are currently fueling the Biden administration’s shameful policy on global vaccine distribution.

You are no doubt aware that the world is in desperate need of vaccines, as COVID continues to rage. Intense vaccine hoarding among rich countries, including the United States, has meant that nearly half of all vaccines have gone to just 16 percent of the world’s population, according to the Washington Post. The head of the World Health Organization said earlier this month that a mere one in 500 people in low-income countries have received a vaccine dose, compared to one in four people in rich countries. Covax, the UN program meant to distribute vaccines to poorer countries, is underfunded, reliant on private largesse, and plagued with logistical problems. Even global titans like India are going through complete hell (though there’s more than enough blame to go around there).

There are some logical solutions to these issues. One is for places like the United States to give away the vast quantities of doses they simply do not need. Another is for countries like the United States to bow to the wishes of virtually the entire planet and stop blocking the intellectual property waivers that are currently preventing other nations from producing vaccines themselves, which they very much want to do. (Guess who doesn’t want to do that? You knew this one: billionaires like Bill Gates, drug companies and their political allies!)

Biden has so far taken very tenuous steps on these things. He offered to send some materials and technology to India (thus making an exception to his embargo on the export of vaccine production supplies) and then pledged to share up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine (a mere drop in the bucket). But he has not committed to anything further.

Let’s go back to the speech, then. The reason this paragraph matters is that it tells you so much of what you need to know about the way the United States approaches these sorts of things. You or I might say that handing out vaccines you don’t need and eliminating the barriers to vaccine production in a pandemic is a good idea because it is moral and just. But America can never escape a colonial, militarist mindset. It wants to be “the arsenal of vaccines,” benevolently tossing them to the proles while keeping firm control over the supply chain. It wants to see vaccines as part of an “influence” campaign, not as something that is right to do for its own sake. (It is not alone in this, but has there ever been an uglier term than “vaccine diplomacy”?) If it is going to be generous, it must extract a benefit from that generosity. It must guard its place at the top of the food chain in one way or another.

A more decent, less colonialist superpower would be moving heaven and earth to vaccinate the world. But this is America. By being so slow to act, Joe Biden is letting people around the world die. He has blood on his hands.