Fri, December 03, 2021


U.S. details global coronavirus vaccine plan, with first 25 million doses headed to Asia, Latin America, Caribbean, Africa

Responding to criticism that the United States has hoarded lifesaving coronavirus vaccines, the Biden administration on Thursday announced a plan to share 25 million doses globally in what officials described as a down payment on tens of millions more doses to come.

Officials said they would share at least 80 million doses globally by month's end - sending about three-quarters of the total through international public health organizations, while reserving the remaining quarter for direct donations to handpicked nations.

"We are sharing these doses not to secure favors or extract concessions. We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values," President Joe Biden said in a statement.

The Biden administration has been under pressure to share doses from the nation's vaccine stockpile, particularly as the pandemic recedes in the United States while continuing to surge abroad. More than half of Americans have received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine, according to The Washington Post's tracker, compared with about 1 in 10 people globally. Scientists also warn that the virus's global spread remains a threat, as mutations that emerge abroad can return to threaten Americans.

The announcement also comes a week ahead of Biden's plan to attend a Group of Seven meeting in Britain, where leaders are expected to focus on steps to close the widening gap between countries with access to coronavirus vaccines and those without. For months, public health officials, the leaders of developing nations and foreign experts have warned of what they call "vaccine apartheid," urging rich countries, particularly the United States, to do more to share surplus doses and boost total supply.

Under the White House approach, about 19 million of those initial 25 million doses would be shared with Covax, the World Health Organization-backed initiative to distribute vaccine doses around the globe. White House officials said they intend about 7 million doses of the Covax share to go to Asia, 6 million to Latin America and the Caribbean, and 5 million to Africa, working with global partners such as the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, the United States would directly share about 6 million doses with nations experiencing severe coronavirus outbreaks, including India, which has been hit hard by the virus in recent weeks.

A White House fact sheet lists more than 40 individual nations where Biden intends to share vaccines, a diverse group that includes allies such as Brazil and Taiwan, and also international aid priorities such as the West Bank and Gaza. While other nations have been less prescriptive when donating vaccines to global aid organizations - attaching no strings about where the doses go - public health leaders sidestepped questions about the United States' earmarks, instead heralding the size of its contribution.

"This announcement allows us to quickly get more doses to countries in a strained global supply climate - meaning front line workers and at-risk populations will receive potentially lifesaving vaccinations and bringing us a step closer to ending the acute phase of the pandemic," Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement.

The initial tranche of 25 million doses will include shots already authorized for the United States, produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. The donations will not include tens of millions of doses developed by AstraZeneca, which are still undergoing a U.S. safety review.

"Importantly, we have secured enough vaccine supply for all Americans," said Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus coordinator, noting the Biden administration would ramp up efforts this month to get more Americans immunized. "We will continue to donate additional doses across the summer months as supply becomes available."

Humanitarian groups such as Doctors Without Borders said the White House plan was insufficient given the urgent global need, although policy experts credited the White House for trying to navigate competing priorities.

"It's an announcement that checks a lot of boxes for the United States: It demonstrates support for Covax, the multilateral approach to solving this crisis, and it responds to pleas from countries in regions who have not received many vaccines," said Thomas Bollyky, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of its Global Health Program.

"The issue is that it is a relatively small amount of vaccines spread over a lot of countries," Bollyky added.

The inequities revealed by the pandemic have been felt on a global scale, with a small number of relatively rich nations securing a disproportionate share of near-term supply and leaving much of the world to fend for itself.

Since Biden's announcement last month that he planned to distribute a share of the nation's considerable vaccine surplus, global leaders have waited to see how that would be doled out. The framework announced Thursday shows the administration trying to signal support for multilateral efforts by sending 75 percent of doses through Covax, with Biden officials crediting global health organizations for their existing expertise in licensing and distributing vaccines.

White House officials also tried to distinguish the U.S. strategy from the vaccine diplomacy practiced by China and Russia, two countries that have sought to use their coronavirus vaccine stockpiles to bolster alliances and influence.

But the same officials acknowledged the value of hand-selecting some nations to receive shots, including neighbors such as Canada and Mexico.

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, singled out the decision to share 1 million Johnson & Johnson doses with South Korea, for instance, saying the goal was to protect American forces stationed there, as well as "the Korean troops . . . standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us in that country."

"It is a unique case - and the kind of unique case for which we want to retain some flexibility," Sullivan said.

Among the vaccine doses expected to be available soon are millions of Johnson & Johnson shots produced at Emergent BioSolutions in Baltimore. Federal officials shut down the plant in April and subjected its products to extra scrutiny after it was discovered that Johnson & Johnson vaccines had been contaminated with AstraZeneca vaccines being made in the same facility. Food and Drug Administration officials are nearing the conclusion of their review.

Looking ahead to the Group of Seven meetings, public health officials and advocates are set to press the Biden administration and the leaders of other wealthy nations for details on whether G-7 countries will follow the United States and support patent waivers for coronavirus vaccines, or take other steps to boost manufacturing around the world.

About two-thirds of Americans say the United States should take a major role in sharing vaccines abroad, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Thursday. The Biden administration has also faced bipartisan scrutiny on Capitol Hill for its lack of detailed plans to share vaccines, particularly as rivals such as China and Russia have provided them to dozens of countries.

Tom Hart, the acting CEO of the One Campaign, a global anti-poverty organization, said he was disappointed the United States had not yet donated tens of millions of doses developed by AstraZeneca since it is not using them. The company's shots, which have received emergency authorization abroad, remain under review by U.S. officials.

"The administration will soon have hundreds of millions of surplus doses to donate," Hart said in a statement. "Now is the time to make that clear and push other countries with surpluses to do the same."

U.S. officials said they would make further donations to Covax, which is co-led by the World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi. The organization aims to vaccinate 20% of participating countries by the end of the year - a relatively modest target that may not be met thanks to a supply crunch compounded by the crisis in India. To date, it has delivered just under 80 million doses to 129 countries.

Covax's model of distributing doses based on population also has been criticized by some experts, including bioethicist Zeke Emanuel, who advised Biden's coronavirus response during the presidential transition and has called for doses to be sent immediately to countries at greatest risk.

Published : June 04, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Dan Diamond, Emily Rauhala, Laurie McGinley