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Trade War with China Could Spark Health Crisis, Professor Rob Field Warns in Philadelphia Inquirer

Professor Robert Field

September 05, 2018

The nation’s brewing trade war with China could have life-and-death consequences if it affects access to flu vaccines, Professor Rob Field wrote in an op-ed essay in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Sept. 7.

With global public health experts fearing that a flu pandemic with the potential to kill millions of people may be on its way, the Chinese government has refused to share virus samples that other nations could use to develop a vaccine, Field wrote.

While China has sometimes hoarded samples of bird flu strains in the past, Field noted that the nation has largely cooperated with World Health Organization rules on sample sharing in the last decade.

China could be withholding the samples to protect its massive poultry industry or to gain a head start in the global race to develop a vaccine, Field said.

But in light of U.S. threats to impose tariffs on pharmaceutical products such as vaccines, Field observed that China may be using virus samples as a bargaining chip.

“While the United States and China trade tariff threats, the risk grows that we will be unprepared if a pandemic arrives,” Field said. “The fight over bird flu samples is a game of chicken in more ways than one, and it could have lethal consequences.”

Field, the director of the law school’s JD-MPH program, is an authority on public health, health policy and health law.