US dampens expectations of sending vaccine stocks overseas

Clinical trial results push AstraZeneca closer to FDA approval amid fears of cases growing

The Biden administration has played down hopes the United States could export more of its AstraZeneca doses, after the company posted the results of its US clinical trials showing a 79 per cent efficacy rate.

Asked if the long-awaited results of the trials – and the expected approval of the vaccine by US regulators – meant that more of America's doses could be shipped overseas, White House press secretary Jen Psaki replied: "I wouldn't jump to that conclusion at this point."

She said there were still a number of factors at play, including the threat of new variants and research into how vaccines were going to work for children.

“The US has been one of the hardest-hit countries [from the pandemic] in the world,” she said. “More than 500,000 people have died, 1,400 people continue to lose their lives every single day. As we get increasingly confident that we have enough vaccine, we will look at options to share more broadly,” she said.


But she added: “There is a shortage of supply . . . around the country still. There are still people who want the vaccine who don’t get the vaccine. We are not sitting on a secret dose of supplies.”

Calls for surplus

AstraZeneca will now apply to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval, and its vaccine is expected to become the fourth Covid vaccine to be approved for use in the United States. Tens of millions of AstraZeneca vaccines are being stored in US facilities pending regulatory approval, prompting requests from other countries who have already approved the vaccines for America to send them abroad.

The Biden administration announced last week that it was preparing to ship four million doses to Canada and Mexico. But calls from the EU for surplus vaccines have so far been rebuffed by Washington.

The United States has accelerated its vaccine rollout in recent days. More than three million vaccines were administered on Saturday and again on Sunday – a new record for the Biden administration.

At least 81.4 million people have received one or two doses of the coronavirus vaccines, and many states have expanded their eligibility requirements to include all adults.

Texas and Florida

But a plateauing of case numbers has also prompted fears of a new wave of Covid infections, as states such as Texas and Florida ease coronavirus restrictions.

As millions of Americans flock to Florida, a popular holiday destination during the spring, city officials in Miami Beach imposed an 8pm curfew in the South Beach area. The new rule, which will remain in place until April 11th, was introduced following scenes of packed streets and beaches last week and weekend.

The US is continuing to report 50,000-60,000 cases per day, and the daily death toll stands at about 1,000. White House Covid-19 adviser Andy Slavitt described the levelling-off of infection rates and hospital admission rates as "very concerning", noting that some states and regions of the country, such as the northeast and the upper midwest, were beginning to see a significant rise in cases.

“These statistics should serve as a warning sign for the American people,” he said. “As I’ve stated before, the continued relaxation of prevention measures while cases are still high, and while concerning variants are spreading rapidly throughout the United States, is a serious threat to the progress we have made as a nation.”

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent