Teenage climate protester Greta Thunberg seems to have grown bored of skipping school to hold up placards about the death of the planet. Last week, she found a new pet cause: “vaccine equity.” Addressing “governments, vaccine developers, and the world,” she joined forces with the World Health Organization to blast “rich countries” for offering their populations too many vaccine doses.
You might not think that the WHO and an 18-year-old Swedish eco-truant would have a great deal in common, but Thunberg and the WHO do share one passion: virtue-signaling. Both have a strong track record of issuing diktats to sovereign governments around the world and telling elected politicians what to do.
In Thunberg’s case, that led to the rise of the hard-left Extinction Rebellion group and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, which has just been revived. In the case of the WHO, which is funded by nearly $5 billion over two years to safeguard our health, an unrelenting focus on virtue-signaling led to an appalling negligence of vital pandemic preparations, leading to the deaths of more than 3 million people from the coronavirus.
But the problems with the WHO began long before the first case of the coronavirus was detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Most fundamentally, it has lost sight of its purpose. It has enlarged its operations far beyond the reason it was created. For decades, the WHO has been quietly expanding its responsibility to include much more than health emergencies. It now routinely wastes time and money by interfering in domestic politics through regulatory interventions designed to change the way people live their lives.
When it should have been focusing on communicable diseases, the WHO was instead spending its time and vast resources campaigning on lifestyle issues — and flagrantly undermining the sovereignty of national governments in the process. From tobacco taxes to alcohol laws, from sugar and salt taxes to vaping restrictions, the WHO seems to greatly enjoy lecturing us about everyday indulgences and making it harder for us to access products we want.
The default position of statist bureaucrats who run unaccountable international governing bodies such as the WHO is to deny people the right to manage their own health and lifestyle, calling for effective harm reduction products to be banned and instead insisting on authoritarian measures such as mandatory health warnings, prohibition legislation, advertising bans, and excise taxes.
Half the time, the arbitrary positions adopted by the WHO (“you drink too much,” “salt is bad for you”) are factually incorrect. Take e-cigarettes, for example. Last year, the WHO laid the groundwork for its new vaping policy strategy with a briefing on its website, along with a splash of publicity. The problem was that the briefing seemed to contain a plethora of basic scientific errors. It was panned by experts in the field, leading the WHO to edit it quietly without telling anyone.
Even putting apparent scientific inaccuracies to one side, where does the WHO derive the legitimacy to tell us how to live our lives? Perhaps more importantly, what gives it the right to instruct democratic governments on domestic politics? Unlike Thunberg, the WHO cannot be dismissed with a photo opportunity or two. It demands action, even when it has no right to do so.
When President Donald Trump moved to withdraw the United States from the WHO last year, there was a great deal of squealing and squawking from people who apparently believe that the WHO provides citizens and governments with an invaluable service. New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Mendez of the Foreign Relations Committee said at the time that distancing from the WHO “leaves Americans sick and America alone.”
Besides cozying up to the Chinese Communist Party, it is unclear what service the WHO provides to America. Its leadership on COVID-19 has been nonexistent; the tragic 3 million deaths are evidence of that. Its interventions against harm-reduction policies are actively damaging to public health outcomes. If it is to justify its funding, the WHO must dispense with the Greta-esque virtue-signaling and instead refocus on positive health outcomes, especially on communicable diseases, which is where international guidance is truly needed.