Greta Thunberg Is Not Entirely Wrong on Global COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg, of Sweden, addresses the Climate Action Summit in the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg has commented on vaccine distribution, and, while she has received backlash, perhaps countries with robust vaccine rollouts — like the United States, Israel, and the UK — should actually listen to her. While her language is charged with social justice gobbledygook, her basic premise is that wealthy countries should help middle- and low-income countries to vaccinate their at-risk populations. From a global health perspective, she is not entirely wrong.

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As Bill Maher noted in his monologue last week, the American news media’s coverage of COVID-19 has been nearly 90% negative. As a result, large portions of Americans have a completely warped view of who is at risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Between one and five percent of COVID-19-positive patients have required hospitalization, and 78 percent of these people are obese. According to CDC data, the mortality risk is thousands of times higher for those over 65 than those under 65.

Perhaps, living in Europe, Thunberg has a more rational view of the risks. Pluralities of Americans believe the COVID-19 hospitalization rate is 50 percent or higher. Many also have a warped view of the risks to younger healthy people and children. These misconceptions are understandable given media coverage like CNN’s COVID-19 tracker. It is unforgivable that the health bureaucracy has not corrected them.

The CDC’s vaccine tracker demonstrates that over 75% of Americans over 65 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. President Joe Biden has announced that we have enough vaccines to remove restrictions, so anyone who still has not received a vaccine nevertheless has access to one. In total, nearly 218 million Americans have received at least one dose, and over 30 million are confirmed to have recovered and have some level of natural immunity.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb has advocated surging vaccines to America’s remaining hot spots, like Michigan. But vaccine uptake is declining in states with declining cases, warmer weather, and fewer restrictions. Despite the negative messaging about the dangers of COVID-19 from the media and the health bureaucracy, vaccination is a personal decision. And CDC data confirms that the vaccine is very effective with low rates of breakthrough infection. There is a very low risk of disease for the vaccinated and a near-zero chance of death from COVID-19.

The CDC also no longer requires quarantine for individuals exposed to COVID-19 who have recovered from or been vaccinated against COVID-19. Media darling Dr. Anthony Fauci won’t even acknowledge natural immunity and still defends masking for these individuals for some infinitesimal level of risk that he refuses to define. Even more annoying, he won’t give objective measures to determine the end of the pandemic.

To hold onto mRNA vaccines that have a short shelf life as appointments to get them are waning seems wrong when other countries are struggling. President Donald Trump put an embargo on exports of the vaccine early in the pandemic, which was prudent. President Biden has maintained it. Perhaps it is time to relax the ban and worry less about a rush to vaccinate people under 16 who rarely suffer from severe COVID-19 illness.

Thunberg is commenting on middle- and low-income countries left behind. However, there are first-world nations whose distribution for the most vulnerable has been significantly hampered. Our neighbor to the north, Canada, is under draconian lockdowns with increasing law enforcement powers due to a lack of vaccines. The Toronto Sun’s Brian Lilley appeared on Glenn Beck’s radio program on Monday to describe the government overreach. When Beck asked him what would help, Lilley said vaccines. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed to secure an adequate supply, and Canadians are suffering.

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Maybe Thunberg has a point, even if you don’t like her tone. The State Department has updated its travel advisories to align with the CDC, and it now assigns a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory to about 80% of countries worldwide. Some populations in those countries are at high risk for COVID-19. Dr. Fauci said on Face the Nation that the U.S. needs to be part of the global response. He also talked about beginning to vaccinate elementary school children in the first quarter of 2022. Maybe he should worry more about the former and back off the latter with a vaccine still under investigation by the FDA.