China and Russia are beating the US in the vaccine race

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — American diplomats are actively urging the leadership of the US State Department in Washington to hurry up with a solution to the issue of sending covid-19 vaccines to other countries. They argue that the United States is losing out to China and Russia because of the hesitation of the Biden administration on this issue.

For weeks now, the White House has been debating how best to respond to requests for covid-19 vaccines and other pandemic assistance from dozens of countries. Meanwhile, China and Russia used the free supply of their vaccines to win political concessions from countries that needed help, according to four senior officials familiar with the situation.

Two of those officials said China is trying to force officials in about 50 countries that receive free supplies of Chinese vaccines to recognize China’s sovereignty over Taiwan. Meanwhile, Russia is using its Sputnik V to strengthen relations with the countries of South America.

The concern among American diplomats reflects a global push to get the United States to finally share part of the billion doses of covid-19 vaccines it has ordered – and the magnitude of the bid for President Joe Biden. Early in his presidency, Biden pledged to make the United States a global leader in the fight against the pandemic, but his White House emphasizes that the United States first needs to protect Americans before helping other countries. How the United States leadership decides will help determine whether Biden will deliver on his promise to restore America’s status as global leader.

“We do not need these doses [of the AstraZeneca vaccine],” said one senior administration official. “This is why we already said that we would ship some of them overseas. However, we need to move much faster to get vaccines and other health supplies to countries struggling to cope with the rise in disease. ”

American diplomats in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa receive desperate requests from officials in the countries in which they work to help them fight the spread of covid-19, including providing them with vaccines, drugs, and personal protective equipment. than the diplomats mentioned above said. Foreign diplomats are actively urging the Department of State to send vaccine batches to these countries right now, as highly contagious strains of coronavirus continue to spread rapidly, affecting people around the world.

Some of the countries requesting vaccines, such as South Asian countries such as the Philippines, have already received shipments of Chinese-made covid-19 vaccines.

Meanwhile, officials at Biden’s State Department, the National Security Council, the White House and USAID have been arguing for weeks over whether the incidence in the United States is low enough for the US administration to afford to help other countries with vaccines.

Several countries have begun receiving supplies of US covid-19 vaccines through the COVAX program, a global initiative to ensure access to vaccines. However, senior administration officials in the region argue that the United States could do more to distribute doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that they do not need.

In late April, Biden and senior administration officials said the United States would dispense 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by July 4. In the coming days, the administration is preparing to announce exactly which countries these shipments will be shipped to, as well as its plans to increase the supply of medicines and other essential medical supplies needed to treat covid-19.

The Biden administration shipped several billion doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada and Mexico, calling the shipments “loans.” But some senior administration officials have argued that the United States cannot ship more doses overseas until the FDA grants export approval for doses of AstraZeneca vaccine produced at the Baltimore plant operated by Emergent BioSolutions.

 

The facility has been undergoing inspections since March, when it became known that 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which is also produced there, had been contaminated. The FDA is currently testing batches of AstraZeneca vaccine produced at this plant to ensure they are safe. The United States will ship these shipments as soon as proof of their safety is obtained, officials said.

Another stumbling block for Biden’s team was how to allocate vaccine supplies based on clear criteria so that no one would suspect that the United States is providing this assistance to achieve political goals.

On Wednesday, May 12, at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Gayle Smith, US Administration’s Health Security and Global Pandemic Response Coordinator, said the United States would not use aid to combat covid-19 in “As a tool to expand influence.”

“Like the administration as a whole, the Department of State recognizes that, first and foremost, we need to ensure that vaccination efforts are effective within our own country so that we can achieve even greater success beyond our borders,” said one senior State Department official. “The administration has now concluded that we are in a position to do more beyond our borders. This is what we are doing now, building on what we have already achieved to lead the global fight against covid-19. ”

Although the COVAX initiative recently signed deals with Moderna and Novavax to increase supplies, US officials decided there were other ways the United States could quickly ship vaccines overseas. However, the administration is still debating whether it should ship doses from its own stockpiles or look for other sources, as two health officials said in an interview with Politico.

One suggestion is to ask a pharmaceutical company to start producing doses of vaccines for the countries that need them, and offset the costs for each shipment. It will take several months to get the process up and running, officials said. Another option is to book future shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine produced in the United States and ship them to countries in need around the world as soon as they pass quality control. However, AstraZeneca is currently in talks with a potential new partner to replace Emergent, according to a knowledgeable source.

“There is a huge demand for vaccines in the world. In all fairness, we haven’t made a decision yet on the criteria for allocating these vaccines, ”Smith said Wednesday, May 12. “I think we want to focus on how we can get additional vaccines in some markets so we can reach more people in more countries and as quickly as possible.”

The Department of State, together with the National Security Council and USAID, reviews dozens of requests from various countries around the world, all of which are collected in a single internal system. This system reflects what these countries are asking for, what the United States has promised them, and what the US administration is currently doing to provide assistance.

However, deciding who should take the first places in line is a complex process. Officials need to take into account many factors, including the incidence of covid-19, the death rate, how many doses a country has already received, what it should receive and what resources it has in the face of the need to combat the spread of coronavirus.

These calculations need to take into account not only the needs of other countries. Here it is necessary to take into account the peculiarities of the domestic political situation, namely, whether the Biden administration is ready to publicly announce that it wants to share with other countries American covid-19 vaccines and other resources at a time when the rate of vaccination of the population within the United States is declining and many citizens have not yet been vaccinated.

“What we do globally depends a lot on what we do domestically,” Smith said.

Biden has already announced that he intends to send part of the aforementioned 60 million doses to India, but senior administration officials deny that the final decision has already been made – even in India, where thousands of people still die from coronavirus every day. The United States is increasingly worried about the situation in South Asia, particularly in Nepal, according to two senior administration officials dealing with aid distribution in the face of the pandemic.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on Wednesday May 12, Jeremy Konyndyk, Executive Director of the USAID Covid-19 Working Group, said that his team estimates Nepal is a priority target, right after India. … The United States plans to provide $ 10 million in aid to Nepal, he said, including in the form of supplies for testing.

“Now that we are seeing surges in other regions – the Indian variant has already spread to many other countries – should we focus on how we are leading the global effort? How can we increase the supply now that we are considering the distribution of doses [of the AstraZeneca vaccine]? ” Smith said, adding that the Department of State is focused on helping countries bordering the United States in the Northern Hemisphere.

“We will keep our promises,” Konindik continued. – The administration is committed to ending this global pandemic. This is the kind of legacy we want to leave behind.”

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