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Vaccinate the World! The Best Investment Ever

Let’s begin with a quick quiz question: What’s the highest-return investment you can think of? Private equity? A hedge fund?

Here’s something with a far higher return: a global campaign to vaccinate people in poor countries against the coronavirus.

So far the United States and other Group of 7 “leading” countries haven’t actually shown leadership in fighting the pandemic globally. American vaccine nationalism means that we are hoarding both vaccines and the raw materials to make them, in ways that lead to unnecessary deaths abroad and also undermine our own recovery.

“It’s a huge moral failure of the G7,” said Esther Duflo, an M.I.T. economist and Nobel laureate in economics. “We’re so focused on our own problems that we can’t see beyond.”

Abhijit Banerjee, her husband and fellow Nobel laureate in economics at M.I.T., added that because of the risks of variants emerging from poor countries, “It’s not only a huge failure, but I think it’s going to come back to haunt us.”

This is not, of course, primarily about money. It’s about lives. It’s about the trajectory of humanity. But for those who weigh costs to orient their moral compass, a new paper from the International Monetary Fund offers numbers that underscore the importance of investing in global vaccines.

The I.M.F. calculates that an urgent $50 billion investment — now! — primarily by rich countries to vaccinate people in poor countries would yield an astonishing $9 trillion in additional economic growth by 2025, by controlling the pandemic earlier.

That would be a return of about 267 percent per year over four years, according to experts I spoke to. In contrast, an Oxford University study found an average return from private equity of just 11 percent per year.

Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the I.M.F., says this investment in global vaccinations would probably be “the highest return on public investment in modern history.” The aim is to vaccinate at least 40 percent of the global population by the end of this year and at least 60 percent by the first half of 2022.

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