The United States will send up to 60 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses abroad, after facing mounting pressure to share its surplus vaccines with countries in need.
The Biden administration announced that the Covid-19 vaccination doses would be exported pending approval by US regulators. "We do not need to use Astra Zeneca in our fight against Covid-19 in the next few months," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
She stressed, however, that the vaccines would not be exported immediately. “Just to be clear, right now, we have zero doses available of AstraZeneca,” she said. Instead, ten million could be released in the coming weeks, while 50 million doses would likely be available in May or June. Ms Psaki did not say which countries would be in line for the US doses.
The US has faced criticism for storing tens of millions of Astra Zeneca vaccines in factories as the products await approval by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulators. While the US invested in a partnership with AstraZeneca last May, US trials by the company were delayed for months, and the product has not yet been approved for use by the US.
In a possible complication, AstraZeneca vaccines are being produced at a factory in Maryland that has run into difficulties, resulting in millions of doses of vaccine being thrown out.
“Before any Astra Zeneca doses can be shipped from the US, the FDA will confirm that any such doses meet its expectations for product quality,” a senior administration official told reporters on Monday.
Separately, the US announced plans to send oxygen to India, as the country struggles with a new wave of the pandemic.
Biden-Modi phone call
Officials said a number of short-term and long-term measures were under consideration, related to oxygen generation and oxygen transport. The defence department is exploring the provision of field oxygen generation systems, while the US may reroute shipments of oxygen that were headed elsewhere. Oxygen concentrators and ventilators were also expected to be sent, though preparations were ongoing, officials said.
In addition, the US intends to send supplies of PPE (personal protective equipment), rapid diagnostic tests and treatments including remdesivir to India to help relieve the suffering of Covid-19 patients.
The announcement of the new measures followed a phone call between President Joe Biden and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi on Monday. According to a White House readout of the call, the president pledged the US's "steadfast support" for the people of India, and offered assistance.
On Sunday, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke by phone with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval. Subsequently the White House announced it was sending material to India that is used in the manufacturing of vaccines.
Asked on Monday if the United States was too late in offering help to India given its soaring Covid case and death numbers, Ms Psaki defended the administration’s response to the crisis in India.
“The United States has been one of the largest providers of assistance to address the Covid crisis around the world,” she said. “We are continuing to fight a pandemic here. I can assure people… that we want to work in partnership with India, we are committed to getting them assistance they need.”