No global economic recovery in sight without vaccine leadership - Korea Times
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No global economic recovery in sight without vaccine leadership

By Song Kyung-jin

Just over a month ago, the mood for the global economy was more positive and optimistic with increasing vaccinations and the fiscal stimulus packages in the United States and around the world. The International Monetary Fund projected a global growth of 6 percent in 2021 and 4.4 percent in 2022 after a contraction of 3.3 percent in 2020. Its growth projections for Asia were even higher with 7.6 percent in 2021 and 5.4 percent in 2022 after a contraction of 1.5 percent in 2020.

The global response to the COVID-19 pandemic holds the key to translating these projections into reality. Little wonder the COVID-19 pandemic and the global economic recovery and growth are the two most important items on the agenda of the forthcoming G7 Leaders' Summit in June and also at the G20 Leaders' Summit in October.

But, alas, we are already seeing cracks in trajectories to recovery. The eurozone has just slipped into a technical recession with slow vaccine rollouts and a third COVID-19 wave. The COVID-19 surge with new variants in India is not only devastating but also signaling a great possibility of the recurrence of surges from which no country can be safely spared and thus raising uncertainties for the global economy.

At present, we see no end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic, hence no firm sign of a global economic recovery. I thus view vaccines as a new essential infrastructure in this age of the coronavirus pandemic, without which a return to recovery and growth and normality will be very difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, the most important global priority should be to make more vaccines available, especially to low- and middle-income countries, given the widening vaccine inequality between advanced and developing countries.

The Biden administration, whose biggest initial achievement is getting the COVID-19 situation under control at home, announced last week its assistance to India with $100 million worth of medical products, including 1,100 oxygen cylinders, 20,000 doses of remdesivir and raw materials for producing 20 million doses of coronavirus vaccine. It would have been much better if the Biden administration had responded quicker to India's predicament. Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Japan also expressed plans for assistance. Korea should also expedite its support to India.

However, the global community is faced with the problem of shortage of vaccines for a number of reasons. First, manufacturers are reluctant to invest more in production facilities as the COVID-19 pandemic is temporary. Second, there is a shortage of supply in highly skilled technical personnel to deal with the vaccine manufacturing process. And the vaccine supply chain is often challenged by national regulatory barriers. For example, the U.S. Defense Production Act prevents the shipping of essential raw materials outside the United States.

Given the urgency, countries with resources should consider putting more public investment into vaccine production capacity. This extra vaccine capacity can be shifted into a national research and development (R&D) facility to fight future pandemics and communicable diseases as they arise. Or such extra facilities can be pulled together to form a multilateral R&D partnership for the same purpose by pooling resources multilaterally from like-minded countries, companies, and donors. The multilateral R&D partnership can supplement and complement the work of not only the stakeholders involved but also the World Health Organization. In this process, competent technical personnel will be produced. We need to think about lifting the regulatory barriers immediately and temporarily to make the global vaccine supply chains more resilient. India, South Africa, and many leaders and experts have already called for a temporary waiver of the COVID-19 related intellectual property rights, which is being reviewed by the Biden administration. More are joining in this initiative.

In critical demand is U.S. vaccine leadership. Now is a good opportunity for the United States to step up and show the world that "America is really back." For example, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) vaccine partnership, as agreed at the Quad summit on March 12, can take the lead. The Quad vaccine partnership promised to supply the world with 1 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2022 with India as the production center. However, India's worsening COVID-19 situation is preventing it from becoming such a center. The Quad vaccine partnership needs to come up with a new plan for vaccine production.

If the Quad wants to be more appealing to the world, it has to deliver on its commitments and prove its effectiveness and inclusiveness. Expanding cooperation with not just the Quad members but also critical non-Quad members with production capacity in this vaccine partnership will provide an excellent opportunity for that. For example, countries with sufficient capacity such as Korea can be considered as new production centers.

In short, the global economic recovery will remain fragile and weak without global vaccine leadership.

Dr. Song Kyung-jin ( led the Institute for Global Economics (IGE), based in Seoul, and served as special adviser to the chairman of the Presidential Committee for the Seoul G20 Summit in the Office of the President. Now, she chairs the international cooperation committee called the Innovative Economy Forum.


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