President Trump’s deal to hoover up the world supply of remdesivir is a chilling warning of what could happen when the first coronavirus vaccine is ready to be rolled out.
It shows America’s willingness to outbid and outmanoeuvre other nations to secure a guaranteed supply of vital medicines.
Vaccine nationalism, as it’s called, could put the US front of the queue for a jab. It would mean doses are allocated on the basis of nationality, not global clinical need.
As one of the world’s richest nations, the US can pay what it takes to do a deal.
But if a pharmaceutical is made on American soil – as remdesivir is – the president could also invoke the Defense Production Act of 1950.
He has already done so to prevent the export of ventilators and other equipment during the pandemic.
The evidence so far suggests remdesivir isn’t a wonder-drug.
More from Covid-19
Coronavirus: Hancock urged to back Swissport testing plan
Coronavirus: California closes bars and indoor dining at restaurants after record-breaking COVID-19 spike
Coronavirus: Tesco chair to head COVID recovery commission
Coronavirus: UK should ‘prepare for the worst’ in A&Es if no COVID-19 vaccine by winter
Coronavirus: ‘Whole array’ of drugs being tested as COVID-19 treatments – as UK confirms remdesivir stock
How could insurance work for small businesses that suffer losses in future pandemics?
Yes, it’s the most promising anti-viral medication yet, reducing recovery time in hospital by four days. But it hasn’t been proven to save lives.
Now that UK studies have shown another drug, the steroid dexamethasone, reduces deaths by a third in the sickest patients, remdesivir is less significant.
So buying up supplies of the drug is perhaps more about internal politics.
The coronavirus epidemic in the US is spiralling out of control.
More than 2.5 million people have so far been infected, the number of daily confirmed cases is climbing and some states are so concerned they’ve re-imposed movement restrictions.
President Trump needs to be seen to be in control and a bold deal will give him good domestic headlines.
But the rest of the world should take note.