Local doctors urge international vaccine efforts as Trump lambasts foreign aid in COVID relief bill

"If we ever want to leave our borders again, as a good global citizen, it should be part of our responsibility to invest in getting those vaccines to every part of the world."

Dr. Ashish Jha, Jim Braude, and Dr. Nahid Bhadelia on Greater Boston.
Dr. Ashish Jha, Jim Braude, and Dr. Nahid Bhadelia on Greater Boston. –Screenshot

Two local doctors urged investing in international vaccine distribution as President Donald Trump blasted foreign aid provisions in the new coronavirus stimulus bill Tuesday evening.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, and Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, an associate professor at the Boston University School of Medicine and the medical director of Special Pathogens Unit at Boston Medical Center, joined host Jim Braude on GBH’s Greater Boston Tuesday.

Citing reports that people in the world’s poorest nations might not get the COVID-19 vaccine until 2024, both doctors expressed the importance of making sure every nation, not just America and the West, have access to the vaccine as soon as possible.

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“The richest parts of the world, including the richest parts of this country, will get vaccinated, and I worry that in upcoming years, you’ll see these disparate realities, where you’ll have some communities that are able to achieve vaccine-induced herd immunity and others that don’t,” Bhadelia said. “So they continue to have this burden of disease, increased hospitalizations. It’s like a circle, because the more people that get sick and need care, the more time it takes for those countries to get back economically on their feet.

“It has an impact on us because we’re not isolated, we’re connected by trade, by travel, with the rest of the world… If we ever want to leave our borders again, as a good global citizen, it should be part of our responsibility to invest in getting those vaccines to every part of the world,” Bhadelia said.

At the same time the program was airing on GBH, President Donald Trump posted a video attacking the bipartisan $900 billion COVID relief bill passed by Congress, largely focusing on the $4 billion allocated to help get vaccines to other nations. He threatened to strike the bill down if Congress doesn’t get rid of items he deems wasteful and unnecessary, and raise payouts from $600 to $2,000 for Americans.

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Jha said he anticipated that the Biden administration would do more to help people abroad than the Trump administration, adding that Biden will rejoin the World Health Organization and will likely work with COVAX, WHO’s global initiative to distribute vaccines to vulnerable communities in poorer countries.

“We live in one planet, and this virus affects all of us,” Jha said. “If you’re human, you are affected by it, and we can’t protect the humans within our shores if we are not willing to engage with humans all around the world.”

Almost every nation is cooperating with COVAX — the United Kingdom and the European Union with the United States and Russia being the two main exceptions. COVAX says it needs nearly $5 billion more to meet its goal of vaccinating at least 20% of people in poor countries in 2021. The United Kingdom and the European Union have donated most of the $2.1 billion already raised.

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