Morning Brief

If There’s a Vaccine, Who Gets It First?

As researchers around the world race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, questions remain over equitable distribution.

An engineer works  on an experimental coronavirus vaccine at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing on April 29.
An engineer works on an experimental coronavirus vaccine at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing on April 29. NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The White House is expected to announce details on its coronavirus vaccine development plans, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delays the swearing-in of Israel’s unity government, and the U.S. House of Representatives is set to approve a rule change to allow proxy voting.

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Vaccine Distribution Could Reflect Existing Inequalities

If there is a coronavirus vaccine, will the United States get it first?

After controversial comments by the CEO of a French pharmaceutical company, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe took the opportunity on Thursday to say that equal access to any vaccine that is developed is “non-negotiable.” Paul Hudson, the head of Sanofi, told Bloomberg on Wednesday that the United States would get the “largest pre-order” of a successful vaccine because it was the first to fund the firm’s research—a statement he later walked back. The comments reportedly angered French President Emmanuel Macron, who is expected to meet Hudson next week.

Sanofi is just one of dozens of companies working to develop a vaccine around the world. While other countries committed to an $8 billion global pledge to support vaccine development and equitable distribution, the United States did not pledge any funds. Some experts have raised concerns over nationalism taking precedence. The White House has announced its own vaccine development initiative, called Operation Warp Speed, and tapped a former executive at GlaxoSmithKline to lead the effort. More details are expected today.

Whistleblower says no plans in place. On Thursday, a congressional committee heard testimony from Rick Bright, a scientist who in April was removed from his position as head of the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority—a federal agency responsible for vaccines. Bright told lawmakers that the United States still has no plan for how to distribute a potential vaccine effectively and equitably—even within its borders.

If there is a second wave of the virus, the United States may face “the darkest winter in modern history,” Bright said. “Our window of opportunity is closing.”

What about the timeline? Trump has said he believes a vaccine could come by the end of this year, conflicting with statements from Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—who says that fall availability is unlikely. A STAT tracker shows 14 high-profile vaccines in development around the world, with six in phase-one human trials.

What We’re Following Today

Israel’s unity government swearing-in postponed. Israel will wait until at least Sunday for the new unity government to be sworn in. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed a vote of confidence on the proposed coalition between his right-wing Likud party and former rival Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party at the last minute. The vote was expected on Thursday evening local time, but some senior Likud members threatened to boycott the vote unless they were offered top government positions. To avoid a fourth election after a year of political uncertainty, the new government must be sworn in by next Thursday—days before Netanyahu’s criminal corruption trial begins.

U.S. House to approve voting by proxy. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote today to change its rules to allow lawmakers to serve as proxies for others who are quarantined or unable to make it to the chamber to vote. The move, which is backed by House Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, would break with 200 years of precedent—allowing individual lawmakers to vote on behalf up to 10 other members. At least six U.S. representatives have tested positive or were presumed positive for COVID-19, and dozens of lawmakers have self-quarantined as a precaution.

COVID-19 confirmed in world’s largest refugee settlement. Bangladeshi officials said on Thursday that two people had tested positive for the coronavirus in the refugee camps that host more than 1 million Rohingya refugees. Both individuals have been placed in an isolation center. Bangladesh has reported nearly 19,000 COVID-19 across the country but had not yet confirmed any cases in the camps near Cox’s Bazar, where aid workers have warned that a significant outbreak would be a humanitarian disaster. The camps are more densely populated than most of the world’s major cities.

Keep an Eye On

U.S.-Cuba relations on ice. Reuters reports that the Trump administration is mulling returning Cuba to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in large part because of its continued support for the regime of President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. The move would be a major step in the administration’s ongoing rollback of the opening between the United States and Cuba initiated by President Barack Obama in 2015.

Japan’s state of emergency. The Japanese government has decided to lift its state of emergency for 80 percent of the country ahead of schedule, citing the low number of new cases in 39 prefectures. It remains in effect in Tokyo and Osaka. That Japan has such low figures is a surprise as its diagnostic testing has been limited and social distancing halfhearted. But its measures still appear to be working, as William Sposato argues in Foreign Policy.

Burundi’s ill-advised election. Burundi has ordered its World Health Organization country head and three other experts to leave the country by today, determined to go ahead with its presidential election next week in which opposition candidates are seeking to defeat President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose administration has been accused of human rights abuses. Campaign events have drawn large crowds given that there are no social distancing regulations in place. Burundi has recorded few cases of COVID-19, but testing remains low. The vote is set for May 20.

Odds and Ends

A zoo in Calgary, Canada, has decided to return its two giant pandas on loan from China three years early because they are running low on food. Flight disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic have limited its supply of fresh bamboo—first from China, then from California. Bamboo, which cannot be grown abundantly in Alberta, makes up 99 percent of a panda’s diet. The animals are among the zoo’s most popular attractions and were supposed to stay in Calgary until 2023.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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