Trump launches Operation Warp Speed

United States House of Representatives – Office of Paul Gosar / Public domain

Fear “America first”, not Covid-19.

“Don’t ask me, ask China” retorted the US President Donald Trump in a press conference on Monday after being challenged by Weijia Jiang, the Asian-American White House correspondent of CBS News, who questioned his “America leads the world in testing” statement and competitive approach to fighting Covid-19.

In times of a global pandemic that has taken thousands of innocent lives, we have witnessed the very best side of our humanity and benevolent community spirit; however, the same cannot be said about the White House.

The US government’s absence in the transnational coalition fighting the novel coronavirus speaks volumes. The virtual global summit that raised over £6.5 billion saw the attendance of more than 30 countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Gates Foundation and research institutes, yet no representative has been sent by the White House.

Of its own accord, the United States is unilaterally launching its own Operation Warp Speed: a project with the target of releasing 100 million vaccine doses by autumn and another 200 million for the following two months, for America first and foremost. According to government officials involved with Warp Speed, the operation will select a diverse set of vaccine candidates – that means any vaccine but the ones from Chinese laboratories – and conduct funded studies in animals, sped-up human trials and production.

Its titular emphasis on speed, and the eschewal of international collaboration and Chinese contribution, are leaving public health experts and vaccine specialists disconcerted, especially when China currently has four prospective vaccines in clinical trials. “You need to have a global portfolio so that you’re not putting all your chips on one part of the roulette table,” former vaccine developer Emilio Emini says. He deems the project’s insistence on excluding Chinese vaccine candidates a “short-sighted mistake”. Peter Hotez of the Baylor College of Medicine shares several scientists’ scepticism about Warp Speed’s proclaimed timeline: “I don’t see a path by which you can collect enough efficacy and safety data [for 100 million vaccine doses] by the end of the year.”

On top of the pre-existing political antagonism and economic power struggle with China, the US’s departure from cooperative efforts of the global community, and unequivocal forgoing of Chinese engagement, fuels insecurities and tension between nations and undermines the universal synergy against Covid-19.

It would be good for President Trump to be mindful of the fact that our economy and ecosystem are irrefutably globalised and interconnected. If one nation falls under the pressure of the coronavirus with no viable vaccine in sight, it would set off a vicious chain reaction and ultimately adversely affect others, if not the entire planet. Countries like New Zealand facing detrimental issues and restrictions in their export trade and tourism, in turn affecting its customers such as China, Singapore and America due to grounded flights in this pandemic, lend credence to the validity of experts’ apprehension. Not to mention the depredation hundreds of thousands of skilled workers and labourers from all works of life would be subject to.

A pandemic is not unlike a world war, with coronavirus declaring spoliation everywhere. Suppose Operation Warp Speed is to be a success, with the United States protected by millions of efficacious vaccine shots – who’s to say Americans will stay untouched and out of harm’s way while other countries remain in peril? What about when flights are resumed and the floodgates open with asymptomatic tourists from all corners of the world pouring into the country? What if a second viral wave sweeps across continents that are left vulnerable with vaccines still in development? Director general of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is right: “none of us are safe until all of us are safe.”

When confronted with a common, formidable oppressor, collective effort is the key to overthrowing the foe. “This is not like AIDS or tuberculosis … We’re going to need four or five vaccines that are effective, being produced in all the vaccine factories in the world to get it out there,” says Paul Reider, a renowned research chemist and professor at Princeton University. What we do not need right now is a leader’s nugatory self-boasting and exploitation of a worldwide health crisis to promote his own anti-China ideology which will only pave way for more infighting in the global community.

Who’s going to bear the brunt of this America First approach? Millions of immunocompromised patients, children, the elderly, essential workers, people who cannot afford to be out of work – innocent people. This is a universal catastrophe that needs immediate aid and joint action, not a playground that allows petty competition.

The coronavirus sets forth a worldwide challenge. What makes America think it should sit out from the global battle?