Michael C. Camuñez, CEO of Monarch Global Strategies, is a former US Assistant Secretary of Commerce for International Trade and the Chair of the Pacific Council on International Policy’s Mexico Initiative. The opinions expressed here are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
(CNN)The United States will soon have more Covid-19 vaccines than it needs to inoculate its own people. The surplus ought to go to developing countries. And, to turn a slogan on its head, the priority should be Mexico First.
A vaccine surplus is hard to imagine. The dominant narrative of the pandemic has been one of scarcity. From personal protective equipment to ventilators and Covid tests to the rollout of the vaccine itself, we never seem to have enough.
Yet, with regard to vaccines, we’re likely to go from having too little to having too much — and soon.
In fact, President Joe Biden recently announced that the US is on track to have enough vaccines for every adult by the end of May.
With the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine, the US has now secured enough of the three FDA approved vaccines to offer 800 million doses in the United States. This is enough to vaccinate at least 500 million people, almost twice the target population. Add to that more than 500 million optional doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and the 200 million doses of the French Sanofi and US Novavax vaccines currently awaiting FDA approval.
Then factor in that vaccine production will soon exceed demand in many states and the fact that at least a quarter of Americans are unwilling to be vaccinated, and it’s very likely that, by summer, the US will be facing a glut of vaccines it cannot use.
So we must have a plan for what to do next. We can’t let a life-saving surplus go to waste.
The coronavirus didn’t stop at international boundaries, and neither should the vaccine. We need to share the health.
Why should Mexico be first in line? There are several reasons, from the economic to the geopolitical.
First, Mexico is lagging in vaccine deployment. Presently the workforce in Mexico is not expected to be fully immunized until at least March 2022. That’s eight months after the US, a lag that is dangerous for both Mexico and its neighbor.
Also, Mexico is one of our largest trading partners. As a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the US and Mexico (together with Canada) built an integrated manufacturing economy. We don’t just trade with Mexico. We make things together that we export to the rest of the world.
Next, as the Covid-19 crisis taught us, we are intricately connected. US manufacturing in key sectors like automotive, electronics and machinery will not make a full recovery while a key partner remains hobbled by the virus.
The hammering of the Mexican economy will also depress demand for the more than $250 billion of US exports sent to our largest export market. It is in our economic self-interest to get Mexico back up on its feet as soon as possible.
Then there are public health concerns. We share a nearly 2,000-mile, permeable border with our southern neighbor, with an estimated 350 million lawful border crossings annually. Millions of Mexicans and Americans cross the border daily to visit, work and shop. The longer Mexico persists with a majority of its population unvaccinated, the greater the risk that a new mutation or strain of the virus could emerge and infect those in the US.
And let’s not forget, Mexico is also the primary transit nation for thousands of Central American refugees seeking shelter in the US. Robust vaccination programs in Mexico will ensure that those migrants who eventually make it to, and across, the US-Mexico border are fully inoculated.
Giving vaccines to Mexico will also help counteract Chinese and Russian “mask diplomacy” in Mexico. Both countries have aggressively offered to provide both personal protective equipment and their own vaccines, no doubt in part to embarrass the US in our own backyard.
Last but not least, the Biden administration needs ways to strengthen its relationship with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. AMLO has asked Biden directly for vaccines, raising the topic again at the outset of their first official (virtual) meeting on March 1. To date, the Biden administration has publicly rejected the request for help. That is a mistake.
The metaphor goes: “When the US sneezes, Mexico catches a cold.” In the era of global pandemics, the opposite holds true: Mexico’s health is literally a vital concern for the US.
Sometimes, doing the right thing is actually doing the smart thing. Let’s hope our leaders in Washington figure that out.