Washington: The Biden administration is poised to announce which countries will receive the first shipments of vaccines donated from the U.S. stockpile, amid the risk that more coronavirus variants will arise in countries lacking access to the shots, people familiar with the matter said.
The White House, which has faced pressure from a range of countries to share its vaccines, has settled on its plan and an announcement is imminent, according to the people, who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity.
The planned recipients weren’t immediately disclosed. The U.S. has said it will send at least some of its donated doses to the Covax initiative, the World Health Organization-backed effort to buy and distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income nations. The U.S. has been consulting with Covax on its plan, one official said.
The administration’s announcement will stop short of the full 80 million doses President Joe Biden said he’ll share this month. Instead, it will focus on the U.S. supply of shots made by Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, which are authorized for use. The president has said the U.S. will donate “at least” 20 million of those by the end of June.
Biden has also pledged to donate 60 million AstraZeneca Plc vaccines by the end of June, but those efforts have been hamstrung by a Food and Drug Administration safety review. The president won’t ship out the AstraZeneca doses until they’re cleared by the FDA, the people said.
“The most urgent and important thing we can do is start sharing doses in a matter of days to weeks,” said Krishna Udayakumar, founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center. “The faster we move, the faster we can stop playing this game of whack-a-mole.”
The U.S. has faced growing calls to do more to share vaccines globally, as American demand falls off and the virus rages in other countries, giving rise to variants. The U.S. vaccination campaign raced ahead of other nations as the government secured the first hundreds of millions of doses produced domestically.
The administration earlier agreed to loan 4.2 million doses of vaccines to Mexico and Canada. Those are the only U.S.-owned doses that have been sent abroad.
In the U.S., 297 million vaccine doses have been given so far. In the past week, an average of 1.1 million doses per day were administered, down significantly from just several weeks ago.
About 62.9% of U.S. adults had received at least one dose as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Biden has set a target of 70% by July 4th.
Udayakumar suggested allocating vaccines partially through Covax and partially according to criteria such as the need to address emerging variants of the virus, and countries’ ability to deliver doses quickly and efficiently.
“We are at growing risk of really getting to a world of haves and have-nots,” he said.
Biden has said he will not use the vaccines as a diplomatic tool, and he has criticized China and Russia for bartering doses for gain.
“We’ll share these vaccines in the service of ending the pandemic everywhere. And we will not use our vaccines to secure favors from other countries,” Biden said on May 17.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken reiterated that point on Tuesday in San Jose, Costa Rica. “Among other things, we will focus on the equitable distribution of vaccines,” he said.
Biden officials have been consulting with vaccine manufacturers and international organizations on aspects of the plan, including transportation logistics and legal requirements, one of the people said.
Vaccine makers have already begun selling doses that were manufactured in the U.S. to other countries. But the doses the U.S. government procured face legal hurdles. The U.S. government contracts include clauses barring use “unless such use occurs in the United States and is protected from liability under a declaration issued under the Public Readiness and Emergency.” The U.S. got around that by calling the shipments to Canada and Mexico loans.
Announcing the plan soon would help quell complaints at this month’s Group of Seven summit. It would also potentially come in advance of Vice President Kamala Harris’s trip next week to Mexico, which has asked for vaccines.
On Wednesday, Biden launched a grassroots month of action to stem the falloff in vaccinations in the U.S., where all adults have been eligible for over a month to get a shot. –Bloomberg
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