US President Joe Biden is delaying a target date for overseas shipments of 80 million doses of coronavirus vaccines donated by the United States, with logistical hurdles and millions of shots produced by AstraZeneca still in a safety review.
Biden’s White House on Monday announced a list of countries that would receive 55 million doses, after previously detailing the first tranche of 25 million. In total, three-quarters of the 80 million will be sent through Covax, a World Health Organisation-backed vaccine procurement effort. Argentina is among the nations listed.
The announcement, however, dials back the initial US commitment. Biden once said he’d “send” 80 million doses by the end of June, and is now pledging only to “allocate” them by then, suggesting shipments will stretch into July or beyond.
“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to working with US vaccine manufacturers to produce more vaccine doses to share with the world,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.
She said the shipments have been delayed by a host of logistical issues overseas, including making sure countries receiving the vaccines have sufficient supplies to administer them – like needles and alcohol pads – and can clear them through customs quickly and keep the shots in cold storage.
“What we’ve found to be the biggest challenge is not actually the supply,” Psaki told reporters at a briefing. “This is a Herculean logistical challenge.”
The White House announcement on Monday didn’t specify which manufacturers’ shots would make up the 55 million, instead saying that would be announced “as the administration works through the logistical, regulatory and other parameters particular to each region and country.” As recently as two weeks ago, the administration said it expected AstraZeneca to account for the remaining 55 million donated doses this month.
The delay has been due in part to a stockpile of 60 million AstraZeneca doses that he’d planned to donate, and that were meant to make up the bulk of the 80 million and begin shipping in May. However, those vaccines remain under US Food and Drug Administration review.
Of the 55 million, approximately 41 million will go to Covax, including:
- Roughly 14 million for Latin America, including Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras
- Roughly 16 million for Asia, including India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Taiwan, Philippines and Vietnam
- Roughly 10 million for Africa, going to countries that will be selected in coordination with the African Union
The remaining 14 million will be shipped bilaterally, including to some of the same countries. Other recipients will include Ukraine, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Egypt, Iraq and the West Bank.
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The 80 million doses are the first major US donation internationally, and build on 4.2 million doses “loaned” to Mexico and Canada earlier this year. Mexico and Canada are not listed among recipients of the 55 million allocated on Monday.
The announcement did not spell out a time line. “We will move as expeditiously as possible, while abiding by US and host country regulatory and legal requirements, to facilitate the safe and secure transport of vaccines across international borders,” a White House statement said.
The shipments will begin as soon as countries are ready to receive the doses and once the White House has worked through the complex logistics, a White House official said.
Biden initially announced he’d donate 60 million AstraZeneca doses, and then added 20 million doses of vaccines that have been authorised for US use – a mix of shots from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. In May, he said he’d “send 80 million doses overseas” by the end of June.
by Josh Wingrove, Bloomberg