On March 18, the Biden administration confirmed that it was finalizing a plan to send 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico, just as the U.S. government petitions its southern neighbor for assistance with managing a record rate of migration through Central America. This might be the first example of the United States using coronavirus vaccine diplomacy to advance a policy objective other than public health. But it shouldn’t be the last. U.S. President Joe Biden should similarly help Brazilian states in order to open a dialogue on Amazon deforestation.
In a meeting on March 5, the governors of the nine Brazilian states of the Amazon region petitioned the U.S. ambassador to Brazil to help get direct access to vaccines produced by major pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. The Amazon region has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, which continues to ravage Brazil. The country recorded its highest daily case count of over 100,000 infections last week, and the death toll has surpassed 300,000, second only to that of the United States. As Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s government continues to falter in addressing the human toll of the pandemic and in securing vaccines, governors of Brazilian states are increasingly seeking to take matters into their own hands.
The Biden administration should answer the request from the regional governors. As Flávio Dino, the governor of Maranhão and the leader of the Forum of Governors of the Legal Amazon, made clear in his meeting with the U.S. ambassador, the issue isn’t cash but rather commercial access. In the absence of federal support, the governors want to acquire vaccines directly from pharmaceutical companies and distribute them via their own public health systems. Companies, however, are reluctant to deal with actors other than the central state. In a sense, the governors hope that Washington can help where Brasília has so far failed.
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