Opinion: Adolescents can wait. The US needs to start donating Covid-19 vaccines to needy countries now.
Now that the US is swimming in Covid-19 vaccines and the supply has officially eclipsed the demand, it’s time for America to lead the world and start shipping these excess doses to countries that desperately need them.
Unlike the IP waiver at the World Trade Organization, which Biden now supports and will likely take years to translate into actual shots in arms, the US could easily donate just a tiny fraction of the more than 60 million doses of Pfizer, Moderna and J&J vaccines sitting on American shelves right now.
Low-income countries have received just 0.3% of all vaccine doses in the world.
The situation has become so dire in Bolivia that its government is turning to a Canadian company that doesn’t even make vaccines, and Bolivia will only be able to obtain those if the company can acquire a compulsory license from the Canadian government.
Meanwhile, the US on Thursday will likely begin vaccinating millions of adolescents, many of whom aren’t likely to get severe cases of Covid-19, or who live in areas where Covid-19 infections are waning.
Texas has even gone so far as to say it will no longer track if it’s wasting vaccine doses. The state basically advised providers to waste doses, telling them to “vaccinate anyone who wants to be vaccinated, even if that means opening a new vial for that person without knowing whether all doses will be used.”
More than 150 million Americans (or 58% of adults) have now received at least one dose of vaccine. Dozens of neighboring countries in Central and South America haven’t even administered 1 million doses.
COVAX, a worldwide initiative focused on equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, is doing its best to help, shipping over 58 million vaccine doses to 122 participants. In March, the initiative announced the delivery of 2.3 million vaccine doses to Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Peru.
But the US could double that figure with a shipment tomorrow, and never even blink at the loss of 5 million vaccine doses.
Biden made beating the coronavirus his top priority, but that win won’t officially occur until the rest of the world can contain their own outbreaks.
So far, the US has shipped just 4 million AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine doses, including 2.5 million to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada, according to testimony Tuesday from David Kessler, Biden’s Covid-19 CSO. Those doses aren’t authorized for use in the US, and likely never would’ve been used in the US anyways.
Kessler said he’s been on the phone with AstraZeneca regularly over the last several weeks to discuss shipping about 60 million more of its doses outside the US. The only problem — the doses were made at the troubled Emergent BioSolutions plant in Baltimore and the FDA is still working to see if they’re salvageable, he said.
While the FDA continues to review those doses, the US needs to start shipping our Pfizer, Moderna and J&J doses to our neighbors.