Diplomats see the developments as a sign that Biden is moving toward sharing some of the hundreds of millions of doses that will remain for the United States once all Americans are vaccinated. But the president remains cautious about shipping vaccines abroad before people in the United States have access, and the administration’s health experts continue to warn that additional doses may be necessary as the virus mutates and the pandemic. persists.
Biden and his team, increasingly suspicious of Beijing and Moscow’s efforts to use their vaccines to foster good relations in countries desperate to start vaccinating their populations, and approaching a point where any American who wants a vaccine can receive it, Biden and his team have begun to develop stronger plans. intensify assistance efforts abroad.
On Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new position for Gayle Smith, former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, to coordinate the international response to the coronavirus pandemic. Smith had recently been the CEO of the ONE Campaign, which has been openly pressuring the Biden administration to send some of the US vaccine supply overseas. His appointment is an indication that the administration is now in a place to start thinking about how to share vaccines, an administration official said.
For now, the White House says it should withhold enough vaccines in case of unforeseen developments in the pandemic.
“Why are we not at the point where we are sharing doses with all the countries of the world? In part it is because we have to plan for things to come,” the White House press secretary said Monday. Jen Psaki, citing a recent combination. -up in a plant that produces Johnson & Johnson vaccine that resulted in 15 million doses wasted
“We have to plan for a series of contingencies. That’s exactly what we did,” he said. “That’s one of the many reasons we’re still going to be in a place where we have enough vaccinations for adult Americans at the end of May.”
Last week, Psaki said there would eventually be talks about swapping doses of American vaccines.
“As we become more confident that we have enough vaccine, we will explore options for sharing more widely,” he said.
‘The international market is too hot for vaccines’
Speaking on Monday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said rich nations must help accelerate the deployment of the vaccine in poorer countries, warning that not containing the virus abroad would deepen inequality and end up hurting the United States. .
“Unless we act now, the world is susceptible to the emergence of a deepening global divergence between rich and poor countries,” he said.
The United States has announced separate financial commitments to entities charged with producing and distributing the vaccine in developing countries, including $ 4 billion for Covax, an international consortium, and a commitment to help expand vaccine production in India with the goal of distribute the product elsewhere. in Asia.
The United States has also provided limited shipments of the AstraZeneca product, which is not yet licensed for use in the United States, to Mexico and Canada, whose leaders had raised the issue with Biden during virtual summits for the past two months.
Still, so far Biden hasn’t shipped ready-to-use doses of the three vaccines that are distributed in the U.S. (Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) to countries that need them. It has resisted calls to relax intellectual property rules to allow other countries to start producing vaccines.
It also faces pressure from a variety of global voices to step up its efforts to vaccinate more of the world.
Alfonso Quiñónez, Guatemalan ambassador to the United States, said in an interview that more money to buy vaccines was not a problem. Instead, he said accessing vaccine supplies has been a challenge due to global demand.
“If our population is not vaccinated, and a number of Guatemalans who are not yet vaccinated enter the United States every day, the risk continues to exist here in the United States,” he said.
“We are not asking for donations,” he added. “We have the resources to buy them but, at the moment, the international market is too hot for vaccines.”
Political and practical concerns about shipping additional doses abroad
The United States government has bought many more doses of vaccines than would be necessary to inject the entire population of the country, dividing the orders between the three currently authorized and AstraZeneca. Biden’s team has been cautious about releasing purchased doses for a variety of reasons, both political and practical, according to people familiar with the matter.
But officials have cited the still uncertain nature of the virus, which has been mutating and continues to spread in the United States, as the main reason for maintaining excess doses rather than sending them abroad.
Authorities said the possibility of more variants and the possibility of requiring booster injections in the future is driving some of the reluctance to distribute more of the U.S. vaccine supply overseas, despite the administration expecting a excess dose.
Biden’s health advisers are also waiting to see which vaccine works best in teens and children, and they don’t want to send doses overseas before they know which vaccine will be recommended once testing is complete and those age groups are eligible. That could still be months away, and officials said they didn’t want to be in a position where they shipped a vaccine overseas that is suddenly needed for American children.
The political disadvantages of shipping vaccines abroad are also woven into the administration’s decision-making. Biden’s team recognizes the imperative of making vaccines available to Americans before shipping them abroad, and the president himself has made it clear to his team that his focus right now is on U.S. vaccination efforts.
“If we have a surplus, we will share it with the rest of the world,” Biden said last month. “We are going to start by making sure that Americans are taken care of first, but then we will try to help the rest of the world.”
Officials believe that the political downside of vaccine sharing will diminish as availability in the US increases. Officials see early May as the time when most Americans will have access to vaccines, making them it is more acceptable to distribute vaccines abroad.
It’s unclear what percentage of Americans should get vaccinated before Biden’s team decides to start sharing vaccines with other countries, but that discussion is expected to take place in the coming days and weeks, administration officials said.
Smith, the new coordinator, will participate in interagency discussions to determine what it will be like to share with other countries and when the administration is ready to start doing so, administration officials said. The ONE campaign, the organization Smith previously led, has called for 5% of the US supply to be shared abroad once 20% of the US population is vaccinated.
“As we become more confident in our vaccine supply here at home, we are exploring options to share more with other countries in the future,” Blinken said at the State Department Monday, announcing the new appointment. “We believe that we will be in a position to do much more on this front. I know that many countries are calling for the United States to do more, some with growing desperation, due to the scope and scale of their Covid emergencies. I hear you, and I promise that we will we are moving as fast as possible. “
The administration’s national security officials recognize the value of providing vaccines abroad, from a diplomatic, strategic and health point of view. But because the president’s views on vaccinating Americans first are firm and well-established, few internal disputes have arisen on the issue, attendees said.
The US has already provided direct support for Covid-19. For example, in Colombia, the US donated isothermal transport kits, which allowed 1.2 million doses of vaccine to be transported to remote regions of the country.
Blinken also outlined other “core values” that he said would guide the State Department’s plans, in what appeared to be a blow to Russia and China: “We will not promise too much or deliver too little. We will maintain high standards for the vaccines we target. We help. to lead others, distributing only those that have been proven safe and effective. We will insist on an equity-based approach. “