White House to send US-authorized vaccines overseas for first time
The U.S. will share an additional 20 million doses of domestically authorized coronavirus vaccines with the rest of the world by the end of June, President Biden announced Monday.
The vaccine exports will consist of doses from either Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson, which are the only three vaccines authorized for use in the U.S.
The move is in addition to a previous commitment to send 60 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses overseas as soon as they are cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, and comes amid mounting pressure on the Biden administration to provide more help to other countries.
It is not known how long it will take for the FDA to declare the AstraZeneca vaccine safe.
"We know America will never be fully safe until the pandemic that's raging globally is under control," Biden said during a White House address. “No ocean’s wide enough, no wall is high enough, to keep us safe.”
Biden has pledged that the U.S. would soon become an “arsenal” of global vaccine supply. He said on Monday that the 80 million doses will represent 30 percent of the vaccines produced by the United States by the end of June.
"This will be more vaccines than any country has actually shared to date, five times more than any other country. More than Russia and China, which have donated 15 million doses," Biden said.
Biden stressed that unlike Russia and China, the U.S. would not use its vaccine surplus to expand its influence abroad and leverage favors from other countries.
"We want to lead the world with our values. With this demonstration of our innovation and ingenuity, and the fundamental decency of American people," Biden said. "We'll share these vaccines in service of ending the pandemic everywhere."
Biden said White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients will be in charge of the effort, working with the National Security Council and the State Department.
"We have the vaccine. We've secured enough supply to vaccinate all adults and children above the age of 12," Biden said. "Over the past 118 days, our vaccination program has led the world. And today, we're taking an additional step to help the world."
The administration had initially been reluctant to send any doses overseas, saying the extra doses could be a backstop for possible manufacturing issues, used to vaccinate children, or serve as booster doses if necessary to fight against variants of the virus.
But the vaccine supply picture has improved dramatically in the U.S., while there are at the same time worsening crises in other countries. India has even faced shortages of oxygen as it deals with an alarming spike in cases.
The U.S. has taken some steps toward international cooperation.
In February, Biden announced $2 billion in funding for COVAX, an international initiative dedicated to equitable distribution of the vaccine.
In March, the administration shared over 4 million doses of available AstraZeneca vaccine with Canada and Mexico.
Earlier this month, the administration announced support of a World Trade Organization waiver of patent rights. But experts have said it won't help to increase supply this year.
Advocates, still, are calling for a more concrete plan from the administration.
According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. and other high-income countries have secured almost 90 percent of the available coronavirus vaccine supply.
“Twenty million is a depressingly tiny figure compared to the global need; akin to tossing a bucket of water at a raging inferno. If India were to receive all 20 million doses, it would vaccinate less than one percent of its population, beyond what it has already," said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program.
“Dose donations are welcome, but they are no substitute for a plan of scale and ambition to end the pandemic. The world is in dire need of such a plan from leaders including President Biden," Maybarduk said.
On Monday, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus repeated his calls for manufacturers and high-income countries to share their doses with COVAX.
"There’s a huge disconnect growing where in some countries with the highest vaccination rates, there appears to be a mindset that the pandemic is over, while others are experiencing huge waves of infection. The pandemic is a long way from over," Tedros said. "No one is safe until we’re all safe."
Updated 3:05 p.m.