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As Vaccine Hopes Grow, Poorer Countries Are Last in Line

A vaccine candidate closely linked with Operation Warp Speed is expected to produce preliminary results similar to the blockbuster Pfizer findings.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Biotechnology company Moderna protocol files for COVID-19 vaccinations are kept at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida, on August 13, 2020.
Biotechnology company Moderna protocol files for COVID-19 vaccinations are kept at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida, on August 13, 2020. Chandan Khanna/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hopes are rising for a second promising coronavirus vaccine candidate, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition resigns, and Russia eyes a Sudan naval base.

We welcome your feedback at  

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hopes are rising for a second promising coronavirus vaccine candidate, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition resigns, and Russia eyes a Sudan naval base.

We welcome your feedback at  

Will Trump Take Credit for Vaccine Breakthroughs?

Just as the news of a possible breakthrough coronavirus vaccine sent stock markets soaring earlier in the week, a second vaccine candidate may be about to post similar results.

A vaccine trial by U.S.-based Moderna has now reached the threshold number of infections that allow it to go to preliminary analysis. And just like the Pfizer/BioNtech trial, the rising number of coronavirus infections means that Moderna is likely to have more cases to test than they had initially planned for.

Will it work? Although it’s not yet known whether the trial’s results will be similar to the promising ones delivered by Pfizer/BioNtech, there is reason to believe it will. This is because Moderna’s vaccine candidate uses the same delivery mechanism: messenger RNA (mRNA). Drew Weissman, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania told Bloomberg that he expects “similar results” from the Moderna trial. “It is hard to imagine how it would be much different,” he added.

If the preliminary results bring good news, it will allow the Trump administration to have a stronger case for taking credit. Moderna, unlike Pfizer, has much closer ties to Operation Warp Speed, the White House’s public-private partnership formed to find a suitable vaccine.

Vaccine hoarding. If one or both of the vaccines prove effective, it will be good news for wealthy countries but an anxious wait for the poorer ones. A study by researchers at Duke University Global Health Innovation Center found that the European Union and five other countries have already bought up 2.2 billion doses of potential vaccines. Canada, for example, has purchased enough vaccine doses to cover its population more than five times over. Given that some vaccines may require two doses, it means some poorer countries may be waiting until 2024 before they receive a vaccine.

How cold can you go? Wealth isn’t the only driving factor in vaccine delivery; competence matters, too. As Laurie Garrett wrote on Nov. 10, even a country as wealthy as the United States may struggle to distribute a vaccine, especially if it comes with the unusual storage demands of one based on mRNA, which needs temperatures of -103 degrees Fahrenheit to remain stable. And that’s before considering what level of public opposition there will be to a government approved vaccine if it does become available.

What We’re Following Today

The Biden transition. President-elect Joe Biden has named Ron Klain as his chief of staff in his incoming administration. A longtime Democratic party operative, Klain served as an adviser on the Biden election campaign; his most recent stint in government was as President Barack Obama’s Ebola epidemic coordinator. Foreign Policy has rounded up the likely candidates for the top foreign-policy jobs in a future Biden cabinet.

Hong Kong democracy blow. The pro-democracy grouping in the Hong Kong Legislative Council has resigned en masse after the ousting of four of their colleagues under new laws enacted by Beijing that allow for the removal of lawmakers deemed disloyal to the mainland. In addition to the four representatives, a total of 15 elected officials resigned in protest. Reacting to the news, U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the United States would “continue to identify and sanction those responsible for extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom.” In FP’s weekly China Brief, James Palmer writes that the move means that “more than ever, Hong Kong’s government is now a puppet of Beijing.”

Ivory Coast leaders start talking. Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara met with opposition leader Henri Konan Bedié in an attempt to calm tensions over the outcome of the Oct. 31 election. Bedié, himself a former president, said he would continue to meet with Ouattara “so that the country becomes what it was before.” A key demand of Bedié and his associates is for Outtara’s government to drop criminal charges against opposition figures for forming a parallel government. Ivory Coast has experienced sporadic violence both before and after the vote, in which at least 85 people have been killed.

Keep an Eye On

Russia in Africa. Russia is planning to build a naval base in Sudan, according to a draft agreement between the two countries. The base would provide logistics support, ship repairs, and accommodate up to four warships. If the deal is agreed, the base would give Russia a greater foothold in the Red Sea and Bab el-Mandeb Strait, where other military powers have already begun establishing bases.

Asia’s biggest trade deal. After eight years of negotiations, countries representing roughly 30 percent of the global economy will sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal on Sunday to cut tariffs and set rules for e-commerce and intellectual property across the Asia-Pacific region. The 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam will sign on Sunday along with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. Writing in November of last year, FP’s Keith Johnson explained what (beyond its size) makes the RCEP a big deal.

Yemen’s famine risk. United Nations officials have called for more funds to support aid operations in Yemen, or risk a famine taking hold. Addressing the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said that only half of the $3 billion humanitarian aid budget necessary in Yemen had so far been met. “When I think about what famine would mean, I am really at a loss to understand why more is not being done to prevent it,” Lowcock said. “It is a terrible, agonizing and humiliating death … Yemenis are not ‘going hungry.’ They are being starved.”

Odds and Ends

The Japanese town of Takikawa on the northern island of Hokkaido has found a novel solution to its growing bear problem: wolf robots. More like mechanized scarecrows, the fake wolves come equipped with loudspeakers producing wolf howls once bears come within range. Sightings of bears in Japan are at their highest levels in five years, and two fatal bear attacks have already taken place in 2020. Takikawa officials say they have not encountered any more bears since the lupine sentinels were deployed.

That’s it for today. 

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Image credit: Chandan Khanna/Getty Images

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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