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expert reaction to the Trump administration’s comments that it won’t engage with international efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine

The Trump administration have stated that they won’t engage with international efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.


Prof Philip Clarke, Director of the Health Economics Research Centre (HERC) in the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford said:

“Many governments rely on expert bodies involving clinicians, epidemiologists and health economists that use evidence to guide who should receive new medicines. It should be no different when allocating a COVID-19 vaccine.

“It is important that researchers and governments seek public opinion regarding several key aspects of the vaccine distribution – whether governments allow their citizens to purchase a vaccine privately, and the degree to which a vaccination prioritisation strategy should be focused on health versus wider benefits such as facilitating a safe return to education; also, whether governments should randomly allocate the vaccine if there is not enough vaccine available to cover all individuals assigned the same priority. Engaging with the public by conducting nationally representative surveys would enable researchers and governments to better tailor vaccine strategies.

“Given the likelihood that vaccine supplies will be limited, there is a need for a transparent evidence-based framework for prioritising who gets preferential access to it. We have developed such a framework which will enable governments to understand the potential benefits of adopting different prioritisation strategies. For example, when determining the degree to which those working in the retail and service sector should be prioritised for vaccination, there is a need to take into account individual health benefits to staff, societal health benefits via lower transmission to shoppers, and benefits to the economy from allowing more shops to open.

“I hope that governments across the world ensure that any decisions regarding allocation of a vaccine include consideration of the health impacts of COVID-19, reducing the rate of transmission, allowing the economy to return to normal, and equity particularly as COVID-19 has been shown to have disproportionate impacts on socially disadvantaged groups.”


Dr Joshua Moon, research fellow in the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex Business School, said:

“This is fairly par for the course when it comes to President Trump. He has demonstrated time and time again that multilateralism is not something he is willing to engage in – pulling from the WHO, the JPCOA, the Paris Agreement, etc – and that ‘America First’ really means ‘America Only.’

“On a general tack, however, this is not just a move that harms the Covax agreement but harms America itself. Without equitable access to a vaccine (if and when it is ready), the spread of SARS-CoV-2 will likely remain active elsewhere and repeatedly be imported again and again into the US. This of course assumes that there is a cessation of Covid-19 cases in the US thanks to whichever vaccine is pushed through. 

“Of course, Covax comes with a caveat that does seem antithetical to President Trump’s Covid strategy: regulation and good science. Covax would enable multi-layered regulation where WHO approves vaccines for the Covax portfolio, and then countries can regulate those within the portfolio at their discretion. This extra step, requiring WHO approval of the vaccine, flies in the face of the Trump Administration’s seeming desire to give Emergency Use Authorisations to a covid-19 vaccine before the election.

“This is all to say nothing of the moral question of sharing vaccines and ensuring equitable access, which sadly seems to be missing.”



All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


Declared interests

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