Biden Rebuffs EU, AstraZeneca and Says U.S. Will Keep Its Doses
U.S. President Joe Biden, during a visit to a Covid-19 vaccination site in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2021. (Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg)

Biden Rebuffs EU, AstraZeneca and Says U.S. Will Keep Its Doses

President Joe Biden’s administration is holding on to its stockpile of AstraZeneca PLC vaccines, even though the shot isn’t authorized for U.S. use, top aides said Friday -- rebuffing pressure from Europe and the company to consider sharing doses of the shot.

“We have a small inventory of AstraZeneca so that, if approved, we can get that inventory out to the American people as quickly as possible,” Jeff Zients, Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said at a press briefing Friday. “We’re rightly focused on getting Americans vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Even though it has yet to seek U.S. regulatory approval, the U.K.-based company has begun manufacturing doses in the U.S. to fill an order for 300 million shots the American government placed last year.

AstraZeneca has encouraged Biden to consider sharing those U.S.-owned doses of its vaccine with the European Union, where countries face shortages and the drug is authorized for use. But Biden and his administration have made clear their priority is to inoculate the U.S. population first.

“At this time, there have been requests around the world, of course, from a number of countries who have requested doses from the United States, and we have not provided doses from the U.S. government to anyone,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday. “So this is not about Europe. This is about our focus and our priority.”

The current U.S. stockpile of AstraZeneca doses is less than 10 million, several people familiar with the matter said. An AstraZeneca executive told CNBC last week that the company expects to have 30 million doses ready to ship when the shot receives authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. It isn’t clear when that may happen, but it’s at least weeks away.

Biden has steadily accelerated the timeline for most Americans to be vaccinated. In a prime-time address on Thursday, he called on states to make all adults eligibile for shots no later than May 1. The U.S. has already ordered nearly enough vaccine from the three manufacturers with FDA authorization to immunize its adult population twice over, raising pressure on Biden from other countries to begin assisting vaccination efforts elsewhere.

Meanwhile, nations abroad face vaccine shortages and delivery delays, particularly those without domestic production. The EU has exported doses while also trying to vaccinate its own people; the U.S. is not known to have exported any vaccines.

Biden’s view “is that his obligation, first obligation, is to addressing what is still a crisis in our country,” Psaki said. “1,400 Americans are dying every single day and he wants to have, as the leader of this country, maximum flexibility.”

AstraZeneca has encouraged the Biden administration to consider requests for doses of its vaccine from overseas.

“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,” the company said in a statement. “If those donation actions were to proceed, we would seek guidance from the U.S. government on replacement of doses for use in the U.S.”

Psaki said that the U.S. wants to make sure it is “over-supplied and over-prepared and that we have the ability to provide vaccines, whatever the most effective ones are, to the American public.”

The Biden administration has ordered enough doses from Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson to fully vaccinate 500 million people, more than the country’s population. AstraZeneca, if authorized, would expand the U.S. supply to cover 650 million people.

The administration says it’s contributed significantly to international vaccination efforts without sharing domestically produced shots. Zients cited a commitment of as much as $4 billion to Covax, a global program to help procure vaccines for lower-income nations.

“We know this is a global pandemic and the virus has no borders, that’s why the president is providing, the United States is providing, the most funding of any country to Covax,” he said.

Additionally, Biden agreed with the leaders of Japan, Australia and India on Friday to provide U.S. support for India to ramp up production of U.S.-authorized vaccines.

The Biden administration has said it needs more doses than it has people to account for uncertainty about which shots work for children, and in case a new round of booster shots might be needed to combat variants of the virus.

“If we have a surplus, we’re going to share it with the rest of the world,” Biden said Wednesday. “We’re going to start off making sure Americans are taken care of, first, but we’re then going to try to help the rest of the world.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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