The Biden administration is supporting Pfizer Inc.’s move to begin exporting U.S.-made doses of its coronavirus vaccine, as the White House starts to open up production for shot-starved nations abroad.
“We are glad to see that they are working with other countries to help them meet their supply needs,” Jeff Zients, President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator, told Bloomberg News in a statement. He said the company is ahead of schedule in its commitments to supply the U.S.
The governments of Mexico and Canada said last week that they expected to begin receiving doses of Pfizer’s vaccine from the U.S., the first time the company’s American-made shots are known to have been delivered to any buyer other than the American government.
Zients’s statement is the first indication that the administration won’t stand in the way of exports of Pfizer’s product that doesn’t pass through their hands directly. Pfizer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Vaccine shortages worldwide have spurred some countries and blocs to impose export restrictions, limiting the ability of manufacturers to send their product across borders in some cases.
Early U.S. production wasn’t subject to an export ban but was gobbled up entirely by the government, which used wartime powers to prioritize its orders, cornering the market on domestic production. That allowed the U.S. to race ahead of peers, but spurred calls to do more to distribute doses in countries without their own production.
Demand for shots in the U.S. has begun to wane, falling to 2.4 million injections a day for the last week, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. With about 40% of the adult population fully vaccinated already, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, supplies of shots are abundant enough that pharmacies have begun to advertise their availability.
That’s allowed Biden to begin turning some attention overseas, where the pandemic is raging in countries led by India, raising the risk that dangerous new variants of the virus may arise.
In his address to Congress last week, Biden pledged a coming “arsenal” of U.S. vaccine production to help meet global demand, while adding a caveat: “But every American will have access before that occurs.”
Even with falling demand, Biden has faced a slump in supply, too, as problems with production of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine forced him to abandon a pledge that he’d have enough doses for all U.S. adults by the end of May.
Biden now says he’ll have enough shots for all who want one. The administration has routinely said the country would have enough supply from Pfizer and Moderna Inc. alone, raising the prospect that U.S. officials may try to wring extra production from one or both.
The U.S. has ordered 300 million doses each from Pfizer and Moderna, whose vaccines require two doses. The U.S. contracts with each company include options for further orders.
Biden has said he plans to send millions of doses of AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine abroad. The company has manufactured doses in the U.S. to fulfill a government contract, but the vaccine isn’t authorized for use in the U.S.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said last week that his Pfizer order would be filled from U.S. production. Mexico’s government said Friday it had received 563,940 Pfizer doses on a flight from Los Angeles. Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO, also said he was seeking 5 million AstraZeneca doses from Biden.
The White House has direct control over where its AstraZeneca shots go and has said it will make a decision on an initial tranche of 10 million doses in the coming weeks, pending a safety review. Biden has said India would receive at least some, though it’s not clear which other countries will.
“We’re going to continue to make sure that’s available, we’re going to increase that number across the board as well so we can also be helping other nations once we’ve taken care of all Americans,” Biden said Monday at Tidewater Community College in Virginia. He renewed his regular plea for Americans to get inoculated: “Get vaccinated now, please.”
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