In a new HKS faculty working paper, “Building mass support for global pandemic recovery efforts in the United States,” HKS Assistant Professor of Public Policy Gautam Nair and coauthor Kyle Peyton, a research fellow at the Australian Catholic University, examined domestic support for international pandemic recovery efforts.
- Does “vaccine nationalism” in policy reflect public opinion?
- How does the design of policies and institutions shape public support for costly cooperation in the context of the pandemic?
- What types of communication strategies are most effective in persuading citizens to back international pandemic recovery efforts?
Containing the COVID-19 pandemic around the world and reducing large international inequalities in vaccine access will save lives and generate global benefits that vastly exceed the costs. But, Nair and Peyton note, such efforts require the transfer of scarce vaccines, technology, and resources from high-income to low-income countries. These policies in turn require public support to be politically sustainable.
The new study examines pathways for building mass support for international pandemic recovery efforts. It uses a series of experiments implemented on two nationally representative surveys of nearly 6,000 people in the United States, a country that has long served as a foundation of international cooperation and whose policy choices will be critical for shaping the course of the pandemic around the world.
Findings and Recommendations
The research finds that there is a robust consensus in favor of vaccinating Americans first and that national origin is an exceptionally important determinant of how citizens would allocate vaccines. But national origin does not always trump other factors. Sufficiently large disparities in medical risk, for example, can reduce that bias, suggesting that Americans do not oppose international redistribution in principle.
Cost is a major driver of citizen attitudes towards international cooperation on pandemic recovery, but decisionmakers can overcome concerns about costs to a considerable extent by ensuring that other countries also participate and share the burden. Additionally, the research shows that prioritizing redistributive transfers that also advance U.S. interests, such as patent buyouts and domestically manufactured vaccines, can help to bolster public support.
Finally, the researchers show that highlighting the low costs and large economic benefits of global vaccination efforts constitutes an especially promising means of mobilizing public opinion.
Taken together, the findings suggest that decisionmakers should reframe U.S. contributions to global pandemic recovery efforts from a purely humanitarian endeavor to one that also serves the material and economic interests of the United States.
A pedestrian walks past a wall mural depicting medical staff as frontline Covid-19 coronavirus warriors in Mumbai. Image by by Indranil Mukherjee/AFP via Getty Images
Portrait by Martha Stewart