There are too many grim one-year coronavirus milestones to memorialize this month, but March 11 brings one of the most sobering: the day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
At that time, the international agency’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that the number of COVID-19 cases outside of China had increased 13-fold in two weeks. Thousands of people already were dead. There were cases in 114 countries.
The coronavirus was an urgent worldwide threat.
This past year has been a poignant reminder of how connected we are across national boundaries and oceans, a shopkeeper in Wuhan tied to a waiter in Bergamo and a nurse on Long Island. It proved impossible to shield ourselves off entirely from the disease, which obeys no treaties, borders or geographic barriers.
This past year has shown the tragic consequences of failures on the international level, from the WHO’s own caution and sometime-deference to China, to the failure of powerful countries including America to adequately fund and support the kind of global health efforts needed in the modern era.
America needs to think more globally about infectious diseases. More cooperating, sharing of research and information, and offering aid to other countries can help stifle outbreaks before they travel around the world and arrive here.
Our mutual reliance was not hypothetical last year. It is not hypothetical now. The next crucial moment for international cooperation has arrived: Vaccines must be made available to every nation.
Industrialized, wealthy countries have used their heft to manufacture or import doses for their own people. But where is the morality in numbers like those noted by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in February, that 10 countries had administered 75% of all vaccines, and more than 130 countries hadn’t received a single dose?
Once again, this could spell bad news even for those of us understandably exhausted by COVID-19. But we must keep in mind that the pandemic will continue to be a threat here if it simmers in the global south, with new variants spreading just a plane ride away from LaGuardia or Kennedy airports.
The dangers are global; so are the solutions. Miracle vaccines were developed by scientists in multiple countries, with investments made by various governments to the benefit of their own and other nations. That intellectual property must be shared. Operation Warp Speed boosted some pharmaceutical companies here, and the Pfizer-BioNTech shots were backed by some German funding. The vaccine-sharing initiative COVAX has begun doling out doses to those that need the help, like Ghana. Initiatives like that need more funding and support from the United States and others.
So many around the world have suffered over the past year from this shared scourge, and we are joined together anew by tragic bonds. May the connections we’ve discovered be a reminder for the future, about how we must learn to live together.
— The editorial board