Is the world defeating itself in the COVID Olympics?

The strange fate of CureVac shows just how much national pride is defining the lines of the global race for the Covid-19 vaccine. While scientists try to collaborate across national boundaries, national leaders are caught up in an old-fashioned game of one-upmanship—a competition that is driving, and in some cases complicating, the most consequential medical challenge of the 21st century. Public health experts say we should be worried.

In China, where a vaccine victory could turn a country that started the virus’ spread into the savior of the world, the virologist and major general leading the country’s vaccine project has been hailed as a “goddess” on social media. “If China is the first to develop this weapon with its own intellectual property rights, it will demonstrate not only the progress of Chinese science and technology, but also our image as a major power,” she said on state TV in March.

In June, following fears that the U.S. could get first access to a vaccine produced by French pharma giant Sanofi, President Emmanuel Macron announced that Sanofi would be dramatically ramping up operations in France to put “Sanofi and France at the heart of excellence in the fight … to find a vaccine.” Invoking the “genius of Louis Pasteur,” Marcon hailed France as “a great vaccine country.”

Meanwhile, across the channel, Britain is celebrating the news that their own Oxford scientists are “sprinting fastest” to develop a vaccine, in the words of an April 27 New York Times article—though the news site Irish Central took pains to point out that the lead scientist is Irish, not English.