US Lawmakers, Top Official Clash On China’s Involvement In COVID-19 Vaccine

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Above photo: Senator Mazie Hirono appears via video link to question during the hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on Thursday. EPA-EFE.

Note: The refusal of the United States to work with China on developing a COVID-19 vaccine is another example of the US acting against both its own self-interest and the necessity of the nations of the world working together to confront this global pandemic. The US is continuing to escalate “Great Power Conflict” with China even though it is counterproductive in this crisis.

Even during the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union, the two countries worked together on vaccine research and distribution. A review of Soviet-US vaccine research documents how the two countries worked together through Cold War vaccine diplomacy, smallpox was eradicated, and polio was mostly eliminated. The National Institutes of Health reports that 1959 research between the US and the Soviet Union “had tremendous impact on the disease worldwide, virtually eliminating it from a number of countries, including the United States. The Science History Institute describes “how, against the backdrop of the Cold War, the superpowers’ domestic concerns drove unprecedented global action in the fight against disease—and how each power’s struggles to defeat other scourges, namely, smallpox and malaria, ultimately led to the recognition that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union could isolate itself from the rest of the world.”

Why is the US treating China differently? K. J. Noh, in a personal email, answers the question — racism. He writes “Kiron Skinner, former director of policy planning at the State Department, however, made explicit and clarified the racist animus behind the US-China conflict: ‘This is a fight with a really different civilization and a different ideology and the United States hasn’t had that before… The Soviet Union and that competition, in a way it was a fight within the Western family,” Skinner said. “It’s the first time that we will have a great power competitor that is not Caucasian.”

Foreign Policy, writing about Skinner’s statement, says, “It would be tempting, but wrong, to dismiss this as just another racially charged comment from the administration. This was not a gaffe but a profound disclosure about how the Trump administration sees the world. To the extent that there is a Trump Doctrine, Skinner nailed it: It’s the belief that culture and identity are fundamental to whether great-power relations will be cooperative or conflictual.” Since the announcement of the Great Power Conflict national security strategy of the United States, Skinner adds “the administration had distinguished Russia’s role as a great-power competitor from the ‘more fundamental threat’ posed by China.”

The Washington Examiner describes how this racist policy is playing out in the Trump administration, writing, “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s team is developing a strategy for China based on the idea of “a fight with a really different civilization” for the first time in American history.

Rather than a racist-based foreign policy that undermines health in the United States and the world, the US needs to join the family of nations. Public health should not be weaponized, it should be a reason for working together to solve global problems. The pandemic is a global threat that the US must work with China and other nations to combat, and when we work together to solve that crisis we can also work together to confront the climate crisis, global poverty, ending the arms race, creating conflict resolution as an alternative to war and controlling the abusive practices of trans-national corporations.   – KZ

Lawmakers asked whether the US is committed to working with China on coronavirus vaccine research during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday.

US lawmakers and a top official leading the White House’s efforts to produce a coronavirus vaccine clashed on Thursday over whether American health authorities should be working with China to speed up the process.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to confirm General Gustave Perna to co-lead “Operation Warp Speed”, the Trump administration’s initiative to develop a coronavirus vaccine and therapeutics, several lawmakers asked whether the United States is committed to working with China on research.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat representing Connecticut, raised the concerns “that the administration has … rejected and spurned combined world efforts to develop an effective vaccine” and asked if Perna would commit to “work with any nation that offers cooperation or information relevant to developing vaccines or therapeutic”.

“I commit to working with all nations that we deem are friendly to our national security,” Perna responded.

“Does that include China?” Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii followed up.

“Right now, for me, it does not,” said Perna.

Perna’s responses led to accusations from some lawmakers that the vaccine initiative was becoming politicised at the expense of public health.

They questioned whether a prohibition on working with China would set the US back in finding a medical solution to contain the pandemic and putting the US economy, which has been battered by social distancing orders, back on track.

“It could very well be that China might be the one that actually develops an effective vaccine and then where does that put us?” said Hirono in response to Perna’s statement that indicated an unwillingness to work with China.

Blumenthal said he considered Perna’s response as “insufficient”.

“We often work with nations that are sometimes hostile in certain arenas. We trade with them and work out agreements with them,” added Blumenthal. “I’d like to see a much more robust commitment to cooperation with other nations which I think serves our national interest.”

“Operation Warp Speed”, which was announced by the White House in mid-May, aims to deliver 300 million doses of a vaccine for Covid-19 by January 2021. Congress has allocated US$10 billion to this effort through medical research funding.

Trump in May appointed Perna, commanding general of US Army Materiel Command, to be in charge of the distribution. After a vaccine is approved, other equipment including syringes and vials are needed to administer the doses. The logistics effort includes ensuring the vaccine stays at the needed temperature from manufacturing plants to medical facilities.

Nearly 160 vaccines are being developed worldwide. Only 13 of them have entered clinical trials, according to the World Health Organisation. Six of those are Chinese.

Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech plans to start phase three clinical trials, the last step before a vaccine seeks approval from regulators, for its vaccine candidate in early July.

CanSino Biologics in April began recruiting 500 volunteers for the second phase of a clinical trial of the country’s most advanced vaccine candidate. The Tianjin-based company was working with the Institute of Biotechnology at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences to begin the new phase after preliminary data from the first stage indicated that it was safe to proceed.