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U.S., allies feud over vaccine supply

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette logo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3/13/2021 The Associated Press
Joe Biden sitting at a table using a laptop © Provided by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s administration is stockpiling tens of millions of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine whose approval in the U.S. remains uncertain, frustrating American allies who say those doses should be used now to save lives overseas.

The standoff is part of a growing global debate over who should have access to hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine that pharmaceutical companies are churning out in the U.S.

Besides generating ill will, Mr. Biden’s insistence on an excess supply for America is potentially creating new openings for geopolitical rivals Russia and China.

The two-dose vaccine from AstraZeneca has received emergency approval from the European Union and World Health Organization — but not from the U.S.

Now America’s partners are prodding Mr. Biden to release his supply, noting that the administration has lined up enough doses of three approved vaccines to cover every American adult by the end of May and the entire U.S. population by the end of July.

AstraZeneca said the U.S.-produced shots belong to the government and that sending them overseas would require White House approval.

“We understand other governments may have reached out to the U.S. government about donation of AstraZeneca doses, and we’ve asked the U.S. government to give thoughtful consideration to these requests,” AstraZeneca spokesperson Gonzalo Viña said.

Even though the 27-nation European Union is eager to relaunch a more fruitful trans-Atlantic relationship after the bruising Trump presidency, the vaccine issue is proving to be a thorny topic, with some in Europe seeing it as a continuation of Donald Trump’s “America First” focus.

EU member states’ ambassadors this week discussed the challenge of accessing U.S.-produced doses of the shots. The German government said Friday it was in contact with U.S. officials about vaccine supplies but stressed that the European Commission has the lead when it comes to procuring shots for member states.

Mr. Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have directed representatives to discuss supply chains in the vaccine production.

“Hopefully, we will be in a position on both sides of the Atlantic to ensure that sufficient quantities of vaccine doses are distributed out in line with the schedule so as to complete the vaccination campaigns,” commission spokesman Eric Mamer said.

Well over 10 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine are stockpiled for use in the U.S.

“We want to be oversupplied and overprepared,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.

Asked about the stockpile, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said, “We have a small inventory of AstraZeneca so, if approved, we can get that inventory out to the American people as quickly as possible.”

Drug manufacturers that received federal assistance in developing or expanding vaccine manufacturing were required to sell their first doses to the U.S. In the case of AstraZeneca, whose vaccine was initially expected to be the first to receive federal emergency use authorization, the government ordered 300 million doses — enough for 150 million Americans — before issues with the vaccine’s clinical trial held up approval.

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