The U.S. should vaccinate the world

There are significant bottlenecks to scaling up vaccine production. In normal times, building and staffing new pharmaceutical factories takes months or years. For companies such as Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson to involve outside partners in the proprietary steps of actually producing the vaccine requires the extensive sharing of intellectual property, which such companies are understandably reluctant to do—unless they are incentivized by public policy, as in the case of Merck’s partnership with Johnson & Johnson, arranged with the help of the Biden administration, in which Merck will help with the J&J vaccine’s production, formulation, and filling of vials, with federal funding provided under the Defense Production Act.

The effort to put the U.S. economy on a war footing during the Second World War faced significant bottlenecks as well, and the Roosevelt administration used every possible tool—persuasion, incentives, regulations, and outright commandeering—to meet the challenge. The current moment calls for a similar degree of urgency and willingness to commit real resources.

Few things can help American workers and companies as much as dramatically raising the growth potential of the global economy by stamping out this pandemic. The move also would buy America an unprecedented amount of political goodwill around the world, which the U.S. government could cash in at its discretion—to build a stronger global coalition to contain China and to improve the global trading system to help America’s working classes, to name just two examples.