ST. PAUL — Scientists and manufacturers across the globe will have to work together closely in order to mount a successful response to the coronavirus pandemic, health and economic experts told Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari on Tuesday, May 26.
To bring the virus to heel, they said, would require a level of global cooperation that transcends business sectors and borderlines. That would mean a vaccine developed against the virus could not belong to any one country alone, they said, and that drug makers need to collaborate if they are to produce enough doses to distribute and stockpile.
"I do not believe in vaccine nationalism. I do not believe that any one country will be able to provide all of the answers to this, and the innovation and distribution and the manufacturing may well not come from traditional places," Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of the London-based research foundation Wellcome Trust, said during the day's Federal Reserve teleconference.
There was broad consensus Tuesday that international partnerships will play a key role in the ever-developing response to the pandemic. But how those partnerships can be cultivated — and how realistic they are to achieve — remains an open question.
A disjointed response to the pandemic in the U.S. has prompted criticism directed toward national public health agencies and officials. The World Health Organization, lately a target of President Donald Trump's ire, has likewise faced international scrutiny over its efforts in the early days of the pandemic.
For some panelists Tuesday, the pandemic has exposed flaws underpinning the U.S. public health infrastructure. Strengthening and restoring faith in it while combating the virus remains a formidable challenge, said Margaret Hamburg, foreign secretary of the non-profit National Academy of Medicine.
Successfully facing that challenge, she said, has economic implications as well.
"If the public doesn’t have confidence in both leadership and management of the public health and medical implications of this . . . they are not going to vote with their feet in terms of their own re-engagement with the economy," Hamburg, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said.
Hamburg's comments came as stay-at-home restrictions on businesses and other gathering places continue to ease nationwide. Retailers in Minnesota have been open for limited in-person shopping for little more than a week, and some restaurants will be able to reopen for dine-in service starting June 1.
It remains to be seen whether consumers will spend the way they did prior to the pandemic, or if health concerns and pandemic-related job losses will prevent them from doing so. After a month of brutal job losses in March, Minnesota shed another 360,000 jobs in April alone, bringing the state unemployment rate to 8.1%.
More than 21,960 positive cases of COVID-19, meanwhile, have so far been confirmed in Minnesota. While many have recovered and no longer require hospital care, 899 died because of the disease.
With the U.S. case total exceeding 100,000, a total not yet seen in other countries affected by the virus, the need for COVID-19 treatment methods is pressing. No cure for the disease exists.
Still, former Harvard University president and professor Lawrence Summers said, officials should be wary of putting to much power or resources in the hands of international agencies. The former U.S. treasury secretary said that while it would be "criminally stupid" to cut funding for the WHO as Trump has called for, that organization should not be put in charge of a vaccine development process.
Money spent bailing out corporations affected by the pandemic, Summers added, would be better spent on U.S. public health investments.