Ortiz: The U.S. has a responsibility to vaccinate the world

Sterling Ortiz, Columnist

I am aware of the bounties of privileges I have as a student at a top-10-ranked university in this country with my loving household, wonderful multicultural fraternity, and twin Hungarian and Puerto Rican heritages.

In early April, I got my second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, another privilege. When appointments at the United Center opened to broader Cook County, I snatched up the first opportunity I could. While I admit I don’t feel any new 5G connection or a sudden German understanding, I believe I’ve gotten something greater: strong protection against COVID-19.

I am happy to join the other 43 percent of Americans and majority of Northwestern students and staff in receiving at least one dose of the vaccine. We who have been vaccinated were both very motivated and very lucky to live in a country with plenty to go around. However, the United States is in a new stage of vaccination. Instead of demand outpacing supply, the nation now has more vaccines than people to take them. The time is now for the federal government to vaccinate the world.

We can see the supply of vaccines outpaces demand from the rolling seven-day average of U.S. vaccinations. A week ago, numbers enthusiasts marveled at over 3 million doses on that average. Now we are left to glance at an average of “only” about 2.7 million doses a week. Local and state governments have been trying to find ways to vaccinate the unwilling or shy. West Virginia, an early leader in vaccinating adults, offers a $100 retroactive savings bond for young people who get the shot. New York City, a current leader in vaccinating adults, offers vaccines below a giant blue whale in the American Museum Of Natural History.

When looking at countries that administered over one million vaccine doses, the United States ranks No. 4 in the proportion of the population given a dose, behind Israel, Bhutan and the United Kingdom, and ahead of Chile.

This country’s place at the top is lonely. Many more countries, from Argentina to Albania, are vaccinating at a much slower rate. India and Brazil are currently in the throes of an incredible coronavirus wave that rivals Lombardy, Italy at the beginning of 2020. New COVID-19 variants appear every so often, from areas hard-hit from the virus, like South Africa and Los Angeles, and none of them evade any vaccine — so far.

While Americans catch our breath after vaccination, we must remember to extend the ladder below us. Because around the world, this pandemic is not even close to being done. The Economist projected in January that, while North America and most of Europe will finish vaccinations in late 2021, some countries won’t be fully vaccinated until early 2023.

I would like to echo the words of a Nuyorican’s George Washington: “Winning was easy, young man. Governing’s harder.” As the wealthiest country in the history of the world, with excellent access to three vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s) with two more awaiting approval (Oxford/AstraZeneca and Novavax), it is time to vaccinate the world. President Joe Biden has tiptoed around this effort in his first 100 days by promising in March to donate 4 million AstraZeneca doses to Canada and Mexico. He also promised a few days ago to eventually distribute 60 million AstraZeneca doses to India and other countries, as well.

Those promises are laudable, but timid. In my eyes, the U.S. should trade in its military’s guns for needles and use our bases worldwide as Meccas of vaccination. I know this is possible because I witnessed this first-hand, twice, when the National Guard dropped doses in veins at the United Center in Chicago. Biden should keep invoking the Defense Production Act to manufacture these life-saving vaccines and distribute them to countries in need until the pandemic is over globally. If the companies involved, like Pfizer, complain for a want of money, then give Monopoly bags filled with cash. We’ll get the cash back innumerable times over from trade, not loans, with newly-vaccinated countries.

We do not have to accept a future where poor and historically terrorized countries suffer from COVID-19, while wealthy countries live lavish with vaccines. We can choose to live in a world where every country sees an end to this pandemic soon, with the U.S. vanguard of worldwide vaccinations. The last time Americans engaged in a successful worldwide blitz was Coca-Cola hunting the former Soviet Union for new consumers. With that same spirit, for a much greater human cause, we can see a worldwide end to COVID-19 in time for Christmas.

Sterling Ortiz is a SESP junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.