By Jordan Bracco. An anti-vax protester in Besançon, France, holds a sign that says, “unvaccinated nurse.” Via Unsplash.


Americans and Europeans both concluded they were handling the virus more successfully than their counterparts across the Atlantic. Both attributed this to their superior social systems. Both were wrong.

The Americans had vanished. Evenings in July at the Irish bar felt like November: no foreign exchange students, just stranded Irish businessmen tending their lager, a handful of Austrians watching the game on Sky. Photographers wandered the squares and museums trying to capture the emptiness. Cruise ships stood at anchor on the Danube. The freight barges that usually chug to and from the Black Sea, reassuring the Viennese they’re still at the heart of something important, had disappeared.

I’ve been in Vienna throughout the pandemic. Austria has a long history of managing plagues, but it also has a talent for forgetting history. Things here have not gone as well as many seem to think. Throughout the summer, Americans and Europeans both spectacularly failed the test.  They attributed their own mistakes to the other.

The two halves of the West were, in fact, remarkably similar. And even if, in the end, the West has proven its technological superiority, it has lost the propaganda war. China and Russia have skillfully exploited Western insularity and division to race ahead.


In March and April, the exponential growth of the disease caused panic in Europe. Dire news from Lombardy encouraged most of the Continent to shut down hard, enforce lockdowns, and close borders. It worked. Cases dropped sharply.

Then Europe began to relax; and at first, in May, the situation seemed stable. The lack of tourists apart, life felt normal enough. Many Europeans drew a moral lesson from the disappearance of the Americans: That’s what happens when you elect a feckless President.

Addressing the European Parliament in July, Angela Merkel declared that the virus had “exposed the limits of fact-denying populism.” Said a German friend: “That’s why we aren’t letting you in.” Masochistic American friends on Facebook agreed they should be banned from Tuscan farmhouses. A country that elected Trump deserved nothing less. Europeans read these American lamentations and concluded their success in combating the virus could be attributed to their superior social systems.

They were wrong. Europe’s success was an illusion. Europeans devoured stories about the virus’s explosion in the Red States, the closing of America’s internal borders, and the high cost of American health care—and from this, somehow drew the conclusion it was time for Europe to reopen its internal borders and declare victory.

European governments should have been urging utmost vigilance upon their citizens. Their governments should have been preparing for the next wave. The skyrocketing death rate in America, too, should have been a warning, not a source of reassurance that Europe was better governed.

The Austrian government was so confident it told everyone not to worry about the guidelines its own health ministry had issued. In late May, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz cheerily offered on Facebook that Austria was safe and secure: “My recommendation for this summer: vacation in Austria!”

No one even took that advice. Europe’s prime tourist destinations had been emptied of Americans, Chinese, and Russians; prices were low; who could resist? By the end of August, everyone in Austria was returning from a Croatian beach or regaling his neighbors with tales of a bargain trip to empty Venice.

In September, Pew found that 68 percent of the German public believed the EU had “done a good job dealing with the outbreak.” Only nine percent thought the same of the United States. Belgians were more generous, with 11 percent thinking the US had done well—and 61 percent approving the Belgian response. Italians were more guarded about the EU: Only 54 percent thought it had done a good job. But Italians had outperformed America, they thought, by a country mile. Only 18 percent held that Americans had handled things competently.

Then the case numbers in Europe began to climb. Not to worry, Austria’s health minister assured us mid-September. Yes, we were at a crossroads; but at worst, we’d hit 2,500 new cases a day—and really, we should be able to avoid that. Austrians met the news without alarm. Schools reopened; restaurants stayed busy; shoppers strolled through the malls without masks. In October, Austria reached 2,600 new cases in a day. Since then, it has rarely dropped below that number.

So many missed chances. At the beginning of the pandemic, the Czech Republic applied some of the strictest measures in Europe. It escaped the first wave. But in July, the government let down its guard and let in the tourists; by September, it was a land of raging pestilence. Obviously, this should have been a warning. European governments should have been urging utmost vigilance upon their citizens. Their governments should have been preparing for the next wave. The skyrocketing death rate in America, too, should have been a warning, not a source of reassurance that Europe was better governed.

By November, most of Europe faced uncontrolled community transmission and lockdowns were again unavoidable. Fatalities throughout Europe soared, exceeding those of the first wave.

Normally, politicians would pay dearly for an abject failure like this. But Europe failed quietly compared to America, whose President was proposing curative injections of bleach. The delirious drama of the Trump presidency and the soaring infection rate in the United States somehow protected European politicians from attention and accountability.

Americans, meanwhile, looked at Europe—locking down again! They swore that lockdowns didn’t work and they’d never do it twice. But lockdowns do work. Ignoring the virus doesn’t. Now Americans are locking down again.


The virus exposed the limits of populism, true, but paused en route to expose the limits of everyone else’s intelligence. Two days ago, the Elysée Palace sheepishly announced that the President of the Republic “was diagnosed with Covid-19.” But how is this possible, Europe gasped? Macron n’est pas populiste. (Another typical cohort of Americans on Twitter drew the conclusion that Macron must have been infected because he’s a racist, which was just as epidemiologically insightful.)

Macron took part in last week’s two-day meeting of the heads of state of the European Council in Brussels. His contact list included EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier, Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, OECD President Angel Gurria, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin, President of the EU Leaders’ Council Charles Michel, and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez—none of whom were best pleased to be forced into quarantine during the dramatic dénouement of the Brexit negotiations. Macron’s chief of staff, prime minister, culture minister, and justice minister, too, either tested positive or are languishing now in preventive detention. A heck of a good week’s work for a virus meant to expose the limits of populism.

Clearly—on both sides of the Atlantic—people cannot get their heads around the idea that SARS CoV-2 is a positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus, not a political program. It truly does not care whether its host is a populist or a superbly nuanced cosmopolitan. It has no volition at all. If it did, the most it could be said to favor is the moist comfort of the nearest upper respiratory tract, be it Reinhold Niebuhr’s or Eva Perón’s. You can’t negotiate with a virus; you can’t reason with it; it doesn’t care whether you mean well; and if you think your country—or you—will be spared because only populists die of Covid-19, the limits of your political philosophy (not to mention your faculties of reason) have been exposed.

The point is not that the US is managing the crisis well. It is not. It is that Europeans do not grasp how badly they have performed.

France’s shock quickly turned to outrage as the details came out. Macron, it would seem, did everything to fall ill short of swimming in a vat of Covid-19. He violated all of his own government’s guidelines. At least one endless, lavish dinner party—where guests took off their masks—seems to have been involved. Everyone who attended, despite knowing perfectly well that one after another world leader has succumbed to this virus, convinced himself it was only fair he be allowed to take off his mask: One must eat, after all? It seems beyond the cognitive powers of any Westerner to grasp that the virus doesn’t give a damn whether you’re hungry.

The Palace has tried to damp down reports by appeal to “medical secrecy,” but the words “fever, chills, and utterly fatigued” have escaped their cordon unsanitaire. We assume the solid-gold Versailles ventilator is close at hand.

Macron’s misfortune gave rise to profound dismay in France, uncontainable mirth in China. “I’m going to die of laughter,” wrote a commenter on Chinese social media. “Among the five permanent members of the UN, all the Westerners died in battle.”


In 1917, Sigmund Freud described der Narzissmus der kleinen Differenzen—the narcissism of small differences. Communities with adjoining territories and close relationships, he surmised, were especially likely to engage in feuds and mutual ridicule not because they were so different, but because they were similar. They were hyper-attuned to the small details that distinguished them. “Of two neighboring towns,” he later wrote in Civilization and its Discontents, “each is the other’s most jealous rival; every little canton looks down upon the others with contempt.”

The narcissism of Europe and America’s small differences has kept both focused on the policy failures of the other and distracted them both, too, from the far more important point: The West—Europe and America together—failed.

The distinction between perception and reality here is striking and important. Europeans have misjudged their own governments’ competence very considerably. The key metric is per capita fatalities. Or course it is: If people weren’t dying, we wouldn’t care about any of this. In this regard, the US has done better than Spain or the United Kingdom and roughly as well as Italy and France. Austrian per capita deaths now exceed the United States.’

The point is not that the US is managing the crisis well. It is not. It is that Europeans do not grasp how badly they have performed. Like American journalists, European reporters have been so transfixed by the Trump Administration, so mesmerized by the grotesque absurdity of the whole thing, that they’ve ceased properly training their fire at home. Die Zeit breathlessly reported that the virus “had thrown once-sparkling regions of New York City back into the 1980s and transformed them into a chilly, empty, trash-strewn stage set.” The editor of one of Austria’s  top newspapers wondered, on Twitter, how American mortality rates could be lower than Europe’s—surely it wasn’t the quality of American healthcare, right? All the while, Europeans were dying in agony, dying for nothing, and dying at similar rates.

Old-fashioned anti-Americanism was obviously at work. The widespread perception that the US has done a vastly worse job in confronting the pandemic was owed, too, to the tendency, among Europeans and Americans alike, to view the other continent not as a real, physical place, but a morality tale. For Europeans, America is the expression of their idealized selves or their shadow side; for Americans, “Europe” is a metaphor for “the Democratic Party,” for good or ill: a canvas onto which their partisan fantasies are projected.


All the same, in both the US and Europe, the perception that the US has done worse than Europe—and is indeed worse than Europe in every way—is Trump’s fault.

Europeans have been stunned throughout the pandemic by the failure of the United States even to try to lead. It was not just that the Trump Administration failed to muster a global effort to combat the virus, as every previous Administration would have. It was that Trump did everything in his power to make the situation worse. (His encouragement of vaccine development may be the exception: It is not yet clear whether he truly did anything to speed the process, and it will be many years before partisan passions subside sufficiently that historians may study this dispassionately.) There is no doubt, though, that Trump’s denial, disinformation, and lunatic conspiracy theories spread across the Atlantic at the speed of light, making it easy for Europeans—and the world—to believe any insane story about the United States’ incompetence, and making Europeans crazier than they could have dreamt of being on their own.

Were you to read only the comments section of The New York Times, you would conclude Europeans were polite and dutiful mask-wearers and social-distancers to the last. Nonsense. In much of Northern Europe, antipathy toward masks and lunatic theories about the virus are as widespread as in the US.

The American Ambassador to Germany, breezily waving off the germ theory of disease, mocked social distancing. The American Secretary of State announced, without evidence—indeed, despite the evidence—that the virus was a Chinese bioweapon. Trump withdrew from the World Health Organization in a fit of impulsive petulance. The grain of truth in his criticism—the WHO did fail to assert itself aggressively in the face of Chinese pressure—was obscured, given that Trump so clearly was seeking a scapegoat.

Americans, in turn, viewed Europe through a childish prism of provincialism, partisanship, and wishful thinking. Were you to read only the comments section of The New York Times, you would conclude Europeans were polite and dutiful mask-wearers and social-distancers to the last. Nonsense. In much of Northern Europe, antipathy toward masks and lunatic theories about the virus are as widespread as in the US.

France—the birthplace of Pasteur and a country that prides itself in its superior facility for reason—is a hotbed of anti-vax sentiment. A recent survey in Le Journal du Dimanche found that only 41 percent of French respondents were willing to be vaccinated. Indeed, according to Gallup, France is the most vaccine-sceptical country in the world. The runner-up is the US.

In the spring, during the first wave, France suffered severe shortages of such equipment as face masks—the result of a government decision, following the failure of the 2009 Swine flu to live up to the hype, to allow its national stockpiles to atrophy. Should it ever face a true emergency, the government decided, it would just buy their supplies from China. Great plan.

During the second wave, the government squandered the gains made during the Draconian first lockdown. It failed to develop an effective test-and-trace system. (France’s first effort to develop a mobile tracing app was not “a failure,” Macron explained; it just “didn’t work”—a distinction lost on all but the most enthusiastic enculeurs des mouches.) Do not forget that it was Dr. Didier Raoult, of Marseille, who prematurely declared that the anti-malaria drug chloroquine would cure the virus.

Nowhere in Europe did the rules issued by health authorities make sense, nor did they stay the same day after day, nor did they evolve in a logical way. In Scandinavia and the Netherlands, just as in the United States, government officials initially derided mask-wearing. Only in August did Norwegian officials concede it would be wise to wear masks on public transport.

In Austria, at first, we wore masks in the supermarkets and the subway. But even at the height of the April lockdown, we kept breathing all over each other everywhere but the supermarkets and the subway. Public squares in Central Europe would soon be thronged with Querdenker—one of those perfect German words that means what it sounds like—who set up their microphones and little stages everywhere and rabbited on about Bill Gates, microchips, global cabals, and pedophiles. Americans would have felt right at home.

Officials in Europe, just like their American counterparts, were dumbfounded to discover there were no good options. Every politically attractive choice led to death or economic doom. Unable forthrightly to confront this, they vacillated in their advice, trying simultaneously to keep the economy and their citizens alive, and killing both in numbers too large for the human mind fully to grasp. Just as in the United States, their inconsistency contributed to the public’s confusion and its growing suspicion that the authorities must be incompetent or malevolent. “They’re just not consistent,” an Austrian man complained to me as he stood exactly fifty meters outside the Starbucks, obeying the latest injunction. “One day it’s ‘Do this,’ the next day, ‘Don’t do that anymore.’” It was true. The advice made no sense. Don’t play tennis, but you can ski. Don’t eat outside at a café, but you can shop in crowded stores. Don’t travel. Unless you really want to.

It is hard not to wonder how Europe might have fared if only the United States had behaved normally. Surely things would have gone better.

But it is idle to speculate.


My regular basketball game—until October, we could still play basketball indoors in Austria—was a ritual of national humiliation. Every week, Trump offered my teammates an even more impressive spectacle to mock: the shining lights that would cleanse our bodily cavities, the bleach. Note, however, that like idiots, we were still happily playing basketball—even though Americans were supposed to be the incompetent ones.

If you looked closely, you could see that the two halves of the West were, in fact, having the same arguments: about wearing masks, closing schools, dining in. The narcissism of small differences obscured what should have been obvious. Like Europe, the United States is diverse. It’s not all South Dakota, motorcycle rallies, and megachurches. Some regions of the United States have outperformed comparable regions in Europe. Until recently, when millions of Americans decided that foregoing Thanksgiving dinner with their relatives was a sacrifice they were not willing to make—indeed, even as recently as December 14—California had a significantly lower fatality rate than France, Spain, or the UK.

Massachusetts, my home state, is nearly as populous as Austria and even more densely packed. Austria has one of Europe’s best health systems. Massachusetts has one of America’s best. Massachusetts was hit hard in the spring first wave, but acted swiftly to mitigate the impact of the second. Over the summer, Massachusetts’ citizens took the threat more seriously than their Austrian counterparts. They strenuously observed social distancing guidelines. Between October 26 and December 15, Austria reported 3,859 deaths; Massachusetts, 1,601.

That’s hardly a success for Massachusetts. It is a disaster. Still, it makes more sense to compare Massachusetts with Austria than it does to compare either with the mythical Sweden of breathless Twitter arguments. (The real Sweden has meanwhile fired the epidemiologist responsible for its disastrous policy, having suffered ten times the per capita fatalities of neighboring Norway.)

Above all, it makes no sense for Europeans and Americans to ignore the comparison that really puts things in perspective: The West versus Asia. The West failed. Asia succeeded. As the host of the German podcast Fernostwärts recently put it, “I think Germany will go up in flames before it seriously comes to terms with what we can learn from Asia.”

The West will probably set itself on fire before it asks an even more interesting question: What might it learn from Africa? Ghana has recorded 326 deaths from Covid-19. It’s entirely possible this is an undercount, but the lack of curiosity about this statistic in the Western media speaks for itself. It’s also possible it is a public health triumph, one linked to Ghana’s experience of infectious disease and the alacrity with which it responded to the threat. Taiwan and Ghana, not Sweden, are where Western countries would look for meaningful comparisons—not each other.


On November 9, Pfizer and BioNTech revealed that their vaccine worked. The market soared. A ray of hope from America? That startled everyone who had concluded America no longer had much to offer the world.

Let’s face facts. In the past four years, the United States destroyed what remained of its global reputation. Fairly or unfairly, it is now viewed as an unreliable lunatic nation consumed by disease and corruption.

I speak now as an American. If we wish to regain the world’s respect—and it is not clear that we do, or even that there is still a “we”—it will take much more than a few emollient words from Joe Biden. Saying, “America is back!” will convince no one. Americans must now decide whether they wish to be global leaders—an exceptional nation—or just another country.

There is a clear path to redemption, if we choose to lead, and it is the obvious one: curing the pandemic—globally. The country that won the Second World War could do it. Indeed, so could Europe, if it chose. If they acted together, they would be unstoppable.

If the Biden administration is serious about proving that Trumpism was an aberration, not the future of American foreign policy, here is what it must do: Swiftly deliver affordable vaccines and mass vaccination programs not just to Americans, but to anyone in the world that wants them. Diplomatic pablum won’t begin to cut through the noise of a world awash in information, disinformation, and sophisticated propaganda delivered by massive armies of bots. But curing the pandemic just might.

When it comes to innovation, America is still an exceptional country, as our rapid development of effective—and revolutionary—vaccines demonstrates. Pfizer and Moderna are headquartered in America. Cutting-edge mRNA technology was first tested in humans in 2015. American scientists have now produced not one, but two stunningly effective vaccines based on this technology.

Russia and China developed vaccines quickly, too, but the old-fashioned kind. The Chinese vaccine gave rise to a “severe adverse incident” in Brazil. The Russian vaccine was obviously both unsafe and ineffective.1 Russian bioethicists resigned in protest, and Russians joked uneasily that the vaccine had a fifty percent success rate: “We tested it on Putin’s daughter and Navalny.” A virulent second wave of the disease in Russia followed the announcement that the vaccine had been deployed.

In realitythe American pharmaceutical sector is better, more innovative, and more trustworthy than Russia’s or China’s. But Russia and China have been far more successful than the United States in portraying themselves as global leaders in combat against the virus. The Sputnik V vaccine, as Russia called it, was a public relations coup. Russia recently announced that more than 50 countries had requested it. Earlier this month, the Russian media proudly reported that its vaccine had already arrived in Argentina, Hungary, and Uzbekistan.

China has been even more aggressive in its vaccine diplomacy. The Party has earmarked millions of vials for Africa, Mexico, Brazil, and Turkey. Their vaccine is easier to transport and store than the mRNA vaccines, an advantage in countries with less developed infrastructure. China has hardly been shy in spreading the message that it can afford to give away millions of vaccines because—thanks to its success in controlling the virus, in turn owed to its superior society and system of governance—it doesn’t need them.

It does no good at all, though, for Europeans to watch America and carp. The truth is America and Europe are minor variations on the same culture. The perception of difference is a function of narcissism, not reality.

The US has the resources to vaccinate itself and the emerging world—if it chooses to commit them. Matching or exceeding China in vaccinating nations whose economies have been devastated by disease, shutdowns, and cratering global trade would be a demonstration of real power—and far more impressive than the grotesque posturing and boasting the world has seen recently.

On the other hand, if the US continues to buy up as much manufacturing capacity as it can and force low-income countries to lose another year as the US races ahead, the diplomatic ramifications will be ugly, even in Europe.

For the US to return, at least, to reasonably good odor in the multilateral organizations it once led, an aggressive vaccination policy is the key. The Trump Administration never had any hope of reforming the WHO because other countries figured he was just looking for an excuse to leave—as he was. Now, though, skillful American diplomats could take advantage of the leverage created by our withdrawal to force overdue reforms on the WHO as a condition of our re-entry. The Biden Administration could improve the WHO. That would be genuinely useful to the world. There is no other world health organization; the world needs one that’s competent, not corrupt. Achieving this would demonstrate to the world that yes, the US is still useful—perhaps even essential.

The Biden Administration and democratic forces in Europe have common economic interests and a common purpose. Neither can survive alone in a growingly authoritarian world. Trump has made it clear how fragile the West really is. The virus has made it clear how broken our societies really are.

Biden claims the next century will be an American century. Does he mean it? If Americans truly want it to be—if they want to call the shots—they need to deliver the shots. They must literally provide vaccines to every human being alive, as fast as possible.

America must lead, and Europe must pitch in to help. Ideally, they would do so as equal partners. It does no good at all, though, for Europeans to watch America and carp. The truth is America and Europe are minor variations on the same culture. The perception of difference is a function of narcissism, not reality. If either wants to survive, they must hang together or hang separately—and now, it is time for them to give the rest of the world a shot in the arm.

Jon Nighswander is an investment banker who lives in Austria. He handles mergers and acquisitions in the pharmaceuticals and biotech sector.


  1. The biggest problem with your analogy is that BioNTech is a German company and BTW, I know many Americans who badly wish at some level it was not as life’s morality tales would be so much easier to explain. I am not all however, downplaying the role different American individuals and organization have had in vaccine development including some just a stone’s throw from where I live in Massachusetts just pointing out an obvious omission.

    • A question I have is why is it so necessary to downplay the German(and Swiss through Lonza Pharmaceuticals who helped Moderna a lot)roles in this. I feel like this was not just a mere oversight by the Cosmopolitan Globalist but a conscious effort of trying to fit a square peg of a morality tale into a round hole but why is this so necessary? What makes the Germany/Swiss role so indefensible. Does it somehow make the vaccines worse or make people not want to take them? Is there an assumption people will read this article and not bother to do more research into the origins of the vaccines?

      • It was not really my intention to downplay the German role at all. Part of the issue is that I am coming from a European perspective where everything American is bad and the US is considered a total failure on COVID 19 so I probably have gone a little too far in the other direction to overcorrect. It is also the US government that has the most work to do internationally to reclaim its reputation while Germany has generally been perceived as a more or less positive example of a rational approach.

        • I guess I was coming from an American perspective where at least in the eyes of some people everything European is bad(and don’t doubt there are Americans who think this) and some regions New England in particular, are almost fifth columns for Europe within the United States(a very longstanding view going back almost to 1800). Whereas if you actually look at the role different Europeans in places like Switzerland and German played in developing in vaccine and that the American role was heavily concentrated in almost crypto European parts of the country like Massachusetts and New Hampshire I would hope any rational person would stop believing everything European is bad.

      • Claire Berlinski | December 20, 2020 at 1:17 pm | Reply

        I think focusing on the German vaccine is missing the point?

        • I agree in the sense that describing it as an American vaccine is also missing the point. The vaccines plural are both the result of open collaboration between open societies such as the United States, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium in comparison to the basically closed nationalistic model of Russian and China.

  2. It’s actually worse than Mr. Nighswander thinks. While it is true that a small German biotech assisted Pfizer in the development of its mRNA vaccine, the other vaccines developed by European pharmaceutical firms have failed, at least so far. The Sanofi (France) protein based vaccine developed in partnership with GSK (British) flopped and needs to be reformulated. The AstraZeneca (British/Swiss) adeno-virus vector vaccine is of questionable efficacy (and safety) because of a botched Phase III clinical trial. These European firms look like the keystone cops in comparison with their American counterparts.

    Then there’s the fact that the EU still (as of 12/18/2020 1400 eastern standard time) hasn’t approved a vaccine. Tens of thousands of doses have already been administered in the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Europe’s sclerotic vaccine approval process is the perfect metaphor for Europe’s regulatory environment in general.

    If the choice is between European elites or American populists, you would have to be daft to cast your lot with Europe.

    • I would say it is more like Pfizer assisted BioNTech just as Lonza of Switzerland assisted Moderna with manufacturing. I think I figured out Mr. Nighswander’s rationale for the article which is that many people in Massachusetts(where I live myself) where the “American” parts of the vaccines were developed with rather align with European elites in Switzerland and Germany than American populists in Mississippi. Of course if you think about nationhood in a Bismarckian sense this is very very bad. You want people in Massachusetts to feel kinship with Mississippi ahead of Switzerland and Germany which I can tell you at this moment as a Massachusetts resident many people here do not. I would say however Bismarckian nationalism is hardly Cosmopolitan Globalism.

      • Actually, the major reason Moderna is located in the Boston area is that it was co-founded by Bob Langer, a world famous bioengineer who has been on the faculty of MIT since the early 1980s. Langer owns the patents on the lipid biomaterial that encapsulates the mRNA which would otherwise not survive its trek into muscle cells. Langer is now a billionaire and his employer, MIT will be making tens of millions in royalties off the Moderna vaccine as well. Langer also benefits because the Pfizer vaccine relies on some of his patents.

        The United States is massively subsidizing most of the Covid-19 vaccines and, as usual, the Europeans (and much of Asia) is getting their usual free ride. The Moderna vaccine relies on technology developed by the intramural division of NIH, specifically NIAID (Tony Fauci’s Institute). It’s the American tax payer who footed that bill. Moreover, prior to the Phase I studies, NIAID performed the primate studies which provided proof of concept data that facilitated the early trials. They did this not only for the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) but for the adeno-virus vaccines (Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca). Again this was all paid for by the American tax payer.

        While Pfizer didn’t take Trump’s Warp Speed money many of the other vaccine developers did. It cost the American tax payers billions but of course it was billions well spent. The EU contributed little or nothing to all of this but, of course, EU citizens will reap the benefit without ever acknowledging that they (as usual) contributed next to nothing while the Americans contributed billions.

        There’s nothing new here; when it comes to biomedical research and drug discovery, the Europeans are takers while the Americans are makers. Virtually all R&D in the pharmaceutical space is paid for by Americans. This is true for Europeans pharmaceutical firms as well as American firms.

        But for the Americans, new drug discovery would grind to a halt.

        • It seems to me you are completely dismissing the role of BioNTech and CureVac which did take German and EU taxpayer money. The real moral of the story seems to be that the companies that had success tended to be smaller and innovative like Moderna and BioNTech while the “larger” companies like AstraZeneca who tried to develop vaccines in-house were far less successful. For a large drug company Pfizer’s approach of partnering with a smaller firm like BioNTech seems to be working out well.

          In terms of whose taxpayers money funding what as a Massachusetts taxpayer I would much rather the Federal government return the “excess” taxes they collect from MA residents to projects in MA like Moderna’s research rather than squander them on pork-barrel projects in Mississippi. At this point I am more concerned with Massachusetts getting back the excess funds it gives to the US Federal govt than any “spillover” and free riding by other countries. If the means to do that is for the US Federal govt to spend even more on drug discovery IN Massachusetts well that is fine by me.

          BTW, I thought this publication was supposed to be the Cosmopolitan Globalist not the Michael Lind, Walter Russell Mead, and Oren Cass American “Nationalist”

        • I really didn’t want to get into the whole issue of who pays what for whom for prescription drugs in part as I don’t really have good data in front of me however, I can’t resist because it is an opportunity for me to link to those “jingly” mutuel ads so common on French TV so I will give my basic ballpark description. The UK NHS is perhaps the worst notwithstanding Margaret Thatcher’s legacy for controlling the prices of drugs however, the US government for conscious political and geostrategic reasons(reasons I personally disagree with) to single out the NHS for price controls and instead the criticism is more nebulously made of “Europe” generally. In terms of how drugs are priced in other European countries say like France, Germany, and Switzerland the only accurate answer is it depends. My understanding is for example in some cases some private “mutuel” plans in France like MAAF and MMA for example pay almost the same as private insurance in the US does when the drugmaker has chosen not to enter into a bulk sales agreement with the French govt. Of course this means for example the drug in question will be unavailable to that percentage of the French population without a “mutuel.” Mutuels are of course the “private” element of French Healthcare system with there “jingly” direct to consumer TV ads.

          French GP’s also massively overprescribe so drugmakers can make up lost revenue that way too. I am curious though what left wing Americans who criticize US drug and HMO companies for spending too much money on direct to consumer advertising think about all the money being spent by the French healthcare industry on these Austin Powers/James Bond parody ads.

        • Claire Berlinski | March 20, 2021 at 6:47 pm | Reply

          10.1 million EU doses have been exported to UK and US. This was *idiotic.* In an emergency, you save your own, first. Nonetheless, it can’t really be said the Europeans are “the takers.” They spent about a third as much as we did on Warp Speed, which was also idiotic, but note that the vaccines that have performed best weren’t funded by Warp Speed. What that money *really* bought us was first access to the drugs. We got what we paid for.

    • BTW, Astra-Zeneca is a British-Swedish company two of the poorest performing countries in Europe.

    • I want to make clear “I” did not initiate turning vaccine development into a cultural war battle but now that the battle has been started “I” intend to win it unconditionally so I must make some additional points. The first is the CEO of Moderna recently gave a local press interview here in Boston stating there was no place else in the United States where he believed that Moderna could have located itself and successfully developed their vaccine which is kind of interesting from a right wing Trumpist standpoint. Massachusetts in areas of state/local control has a very sclerotic almost European level regulatory process. In fact I have already purposely “trolled” Trumpists on Twitter asking why you would take a vaccine made by a company that was so “stupid” to locate itself in such a sclerotic location of Cambridge, MA instead of a more free-wheeling low tax low regulation place like Austin, TX or Miami, FL. In fact there is a big movement by some high profile Trump supporting techno-libertarian venture capitalists close to Peter Thiel on Twitter to push startup companies to locate in places like Austin and Miami instead of “socialist” enclaves like San Francisco and Cambridge. So again how “stupid” could Moderna be and why would you take a vaccine from such a “stupid” company. Yes I know this is very dangerous gaslighting and trolling but I can’t help myself.

      Second the French CEO of Moderna despite seeming to be an American immigrant success story chooses to live in all places the City of Boston neighborhood of Beacon Hill in addition to still having a house in the French Rivera. If you know anything about Beacon Hill it is probably the most European most elitist zip code in the entire friggin United States. No one whose heart truly bleeds Red, White, and Blue would dare to live in Beacon Hill like John Kerry. See picture below for those who don’t know what Beacon Hill looks like.

      Again I return to the point in the original article which states German anti Americanism is often an excuse to play favorites among Americans often supporting Democrat voting and blue state residing(like people in Massachusetts) over “other” Americans while making the point of the vaccines being great “American” success stories despite almost all of the development and manufacturing occurring in blue state, Democratic voting areas most of which are all in Massachusetts and New Hampshire(Lonza’s manufacturing site in Democratic voting Portsmouth, NH which ranks up with Beacon Hill for being the most European place in America). See picture of Portsmouth, NH below too if you have never been to Portsmouth.

  3. “ The West will probably set itself on fire before it asks an even more interesting question: What might it learn from Africa? Ghana has recorded 326 deaths from Covid-19. It’s entirely possible this is an undercount, but the lack of curiosity about this statistic in the Western media speaks for itself.” (Jon Nighswander)

    There’s no lack of curiosity. Mortality from Covid-19 increases with age. The median age of Africans is approximately 20. The median age of the EU is more than double that. The median age of Americans approves 40. Not only is testing far less available in Africa, there is far less motivation to be tested. Asymptomatic Covid-19 is far more prevalent in young people than in older people. The African experience with Covid-19 has nothing to teach the west. It can be entirely accounted for by demographic differences.

    • Claire Berlinski | December 20, 2020 at 1:13 pm | Reply

      It can’t, actually. If that were true, we’d be seeing similarly low mortality rates in Guatemala, Haiti, and Honduras. Honduras alone: 1.69 million deaths. Though I’ve never been to Ghana, I was in Mauritania at the beginning of the pandemic. I saw considerable evidence that public health policy in Africa played a role in these outcome. Exactly as all of Europe and the US was reassuring itself this was all a big panic and laughing at everyone who was freaking out (that includes me, by the way), I flew into and out of Nouakchott by way of Casablanca. No one in Morocco was taking it any more seriously than I was. Mauritania, however, was deadly serious in its response. When I arrived, I faced a detailed questionnaire about where I’d travelled. Every official was in masks and gloves. There were temperature checks. (We now know these are ineffective because of the long latency period during which asymptomatic transmission is possible; we didn’t, then.) Above all: Mauritania was able to test anyone who wanted it. They could do this *months* before the United States could. When someone I know there who works for the UN asked the Mauritania’s doctors (who had shown up on his doorstep) how they were able to test–and contact trace–the hell out of any kid with a sniffle, even as the mighty United States couldn’t, they sighed and said, “Africa has more experience.” President Nana Akufo-Addo gave this speech on March 11: Watch it through. Now, imagine Trump had given the same speech on the same day. Would the outcome have been different? It’s impossible to say. But I note that what he *did* say, on Twitter, was this: “The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant. Surgeon General, ‘The risk is low to the average American.’”

  4. Mitchell Porter | December 19, 2020 at 11:49 pm | Reply

    “Biden claims the next century will be an American century. Does he mean it? If Americans truly want it to be—if they want to call the shots—they need to deliver the shots. They must literally provide vaccines to every human being alive, as fast as possible. America must lead…”

    This is getting sad. In another forum, I just read a Trump supporter saying, “If the US goes, the world goes”, referring to the prospect of a “leftist” Biden-Harris administration.

    America has done amazing things, but really needs to deal with the fact that there’s plenty of national power and human capital outside its borders. And the more aggressively this narcissistic belief that America *must* be the center of everything is pursued, the fiercer the backlash will be.

    • Agreed

    • Claire Berlinski | December 20, 2020 at 1:28 pm | Reply

      “America has done amazing things, but really needs to deal with the fact that there’s plenty of national power and human capital outside its borders.” There certainly is. Particularly, there’s a remarkable amount of power and capital in countries that do not in any way share American values. If Americans want to be relatively less powerful and influential, that’s certainly an option, but they shouldn’t imagine the world will be a friendly place for people who, say, are accustomed to freely saying what they think. Will it matter to ordinary Americans? Probably not. They’ll just have to get used to the idea they can no longer say things like, “Free Hong Kong.” They probably won’t miss doing that all that much.

  5. By the way a less advanced but still very important part of the vaccination process, that is the production of the actual syringes is now happening 24 by 7 at one of world’s leading syringe manufacturers in Germany. Again not the most advanced or sexiest part of the process but a very important and necessary piece nonetheless.

  6. Thanks very much for the links, Ms Berlinski. I took a look and found them informative. They don’t refute the point that young people have a far lower infection fatality rate than older people. Nor do they refute the point that young people are more likely to be asymptomatic. There’s reasonably solid evidence that children are less likely to spread the disease than teenagers and adults. All of these facts explain why a nation with a very young population (like many African nations) has an advantage over nations with aging populations like those in the United States and Europe. It is true that not all nations with young populations (like the Central American countries that you mentioned) are doing well. You are right; there is more to it than age. Mr. Nighswander suggested that the United States has a lot to learn from Ghana. Based on the facts that you’ve brought out about Central America, it would be more accurate to say that Hondorus has a lot to learn from Ghana.

    There’s also the fact that when you take similarly situated nations in terms of age, population density, etc., over time you should expect regression to the mean. Germany, which once appeared to be doing so well, now has an infection mortality rate as bad as the United States has ever had. The death rate from Covid-19 in Germany is now approaching that of the United States.

    As for Mr. Nighswander’s reflection on the narcissism of small differences, right now, the differences between the United States and Europe are not that small. The EU just approved the Pfizer vaccine a few weeks after the vaccine was approved in the United States, Canada and the UK. A few weeks may appear to be a short period of time, but given that thousands of people are dying from Covid-19 every week, there will surely be people who die or become very sick and hospitalized because the bureaucracy in Europe was tardy in approving the vaccine.

    I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve read in the New York Times that the only reason the EU finally approved the vaccine is because of pressure from Germany. That really says it all, doesn’t it? A cumbersome bureaucracy moved to action only after bullying from the only people in the EU that count-the Germans. That really encapsulates everything wrong with the EU; a cumbersome bureaucracy unable to get out of its own way until the Germans become exercised. No wonder the UK headed out as quickly as it could.

    In the longer run Mr. Nighswander will probably end up right because now that Biden has been elected, the differences between Europe and the United States are likely to get smaller and smaller. The longstanding ambition of the Democratic Party has been to make the United States more like Europe. Biden will almost certainly empower the bureaucrats, the self-appointed experts, the professors and the rest of the clerisy. By the time he leaves office in four years the differences between Europe and the United States will probably be very small indeed. Both will be sclerotic, enfeebled and in decline.

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