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Analysis: If the G7 can't come up with a plan to vaccinate the world, what is it for?

It’s become a cliche that the pandemic won’t end in the developed world until the virus is eradicated everywhere. So if the G7 doesn’t do something serious and the summit simply becomes a familiar festival of big talk by politicians who don’t follow through, it will be a failure. US President Joe Biden, the G7 new boy who wants to send a message that Donald Trump’s “America First” era is over, is already warning against good optics but meager substance.
Biden is talking about a “defining question of our time” — whether democracies that provided stability and prosperity in the last century can deliver in this one, amid a pandemic, climate change and rising autocracy. “This trip is about realizing America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners and demonstrating the capacity of democracies to both meet the challenges and deter the threats of this new age,” Biden wrote in the Washington Post on Sunday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that the US would start sending 80 million vaccines overseas between now and the end of July. The administration has made a $2 billion pledge to the World Health Organization’s COVAX vaccination drive and will give another equal amount by the end of 2022. The President also defied the pharmaceutical giants that produced the vaccines by waiving intellectual property protections on the shots — a move welcomed by campaigners for vaccine access.
But given the size of the task, critics worry the US contribution is a good but rather belated start. A vast manufacturing effort is needed to scale up vaccines from all countries. And while they’re saving millions of lives, nations like anti-democratic China and Russia are also aggressively using vaccine diplomacy vaccines to increase their competitive edge against the West.
This week’s talks hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson along Cornwall’s rocky coastline could hardly be more important.

‘It’s like Groundhog Day’

Vice President Kamala Harris is going to Mexico in the second stop of her trip to try to stem the flow of migrants from Central America. But what about the out-of-control stream in the opposite direction? An “iron river” of guns flowing south from the firearms-loving US has exacerbated lawlessness and violence in the region.
“It’s pathetic frankly how little attention is spent on this,” says Adam Isacson, Director for Defense Oversight at the Washington Office for Latin America, a research and advocacy organization based in the US. “You end up banging your head on the same barriers over and over again: it’s like Groundhog Day… It’s an issue that everyone knows is there, but there’s no action on either side,” Isacson told CNN’s Stefano Pozzebon.
Isacson believes that the particularly fraught narrative around the issue of gun control in the United States — often fiercely debated among party lines — is one of the main reasons why leaders spend little time on the issue of guns being trafficked abroad. Another reason is that most gun regulations are different from state to state, and federal officials responsible for foreign policy or international relations have limited influence on those rules. More than a third of the guns seized in Mexico and traced to the US by ATF were initially purchased in Texas, California and Arizona.
Ioan Grillo, the author of Blood Gun Money — How America Arms Gangs and Cartels, echoes Isacson: “It’s kind of mind blowing to me that it is an enormous quantity of firearms, year after year from the United States to Mexico and so much violence happening in Mexico, and it’s frustrating that concrete actions are not taking place.”
Grillo, who covered the drug war in Mexico for more than 20 years and is now a New York Times contributor, remembers when in 2012 then-Mexican president Felipe Calderon unveiled a 3-ton advertising board urging the United States to crack down on gun trafficking. But if Calderon hoped to gain some momentum on this issue with his giant signpost, the tragic results of one such US attempt likely turned American politicians away from trying to tackle guns, Grillo said.
Operation Fast and Furious was a field operation by the Arizona Attorney General’s office and the ATF allowing illegal gun sales to track the sellers and purchasers, who were believed to be connected to Mexican drug cartels. But it failed spectacularly — more than 1,200 guns disappeared into criminal hands and one in particular was used to kill CBP officer Brian Terry in December 2010.
“Fast and Furious was just a disastrous operation, and one of its casualties was knocking the gun trafficking issue off the agenda,” said Grillo pointing at the little progress or even discussion of it among US policymakers in the last ten years.
But now could be a time for change. The Biden presidency and a Congress under Democratic control have revitalized the gun debate in the US, which has potential for further consequences in Mexico and Central America.
“I see a huge window of opportunity on the guns issue: this administration has signaled they want to tackle this, and of course they are looking at it as the issue of guns domestically, but these two issues, gun control and gun smuggling, are linked,” says Grillo.
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