Biden Eyes More U.S. Jobs in Expanded Vaccine Sharing Abroad
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden began Monday to make good on his promise that the U.S. would be an “arsenal” of coronavirus vaccines for the world, announcing he’d share FDA-authorized shots after criticism that his administration had hoarded hundreds of millions of doses.
But he also signaled that he intends for U.S. manufacturers to hold or grow their share of the global market for vaccines, casting his decision to begin supplying other countries as an engine for American jobs. He cautioned that American contributions alone won’t resolve the crisis.
Biden on Monday announced that the U.S. would soon send at least 20 million shots made by Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson to other countries for the first time, on top of a previous promise to share 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine that the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t cleared for U.S. use.
The amount Biden initially plans to share falls far short of worldwide demand. Billions of shots are needed to fully inoculate people in other countries, especially in low-income nations, and snuff out the virus. Advocacy groups questioned whether the U.S. is doing enough to help countries that don’t have access to vaccines even after the president’s announcement.
Biden said he envisions the U.S. leading an effort that would greatly expand domestic vaccine production, and that he’d ask other countries to contribute financially.
“The United States will continue to donate our excess supply as that supply is delivered to us, but that won’t be nearly enough,” Biden said at the White House on Monday. “What we need to do is lead an entirely new effort, an effort that involves working with the pharmaceutical companies and others, and partner nations, to vastly increase supply.”
Doctors Without Borders was among groups that called Biden’s pledge inadequate, but it will nonetheless be welcomed by nations desperate to obtain any shots they can get. Many have publicly asked the U.S. to share its supply.
‘Drop in the Bucket’
”The number of doses they’ve committed is a drop in the bucket compared to the immense global need,” Dr. Carrie Teicher, director of programs at MSF-USA, said in a statement.
Biden’s announcement comes at a critical juncture, with the world grappling over how to boost vaccine production. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai this month gave her blessing to talks to lift intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines, a measure whose proponents hope would boost manufacturing across the southern hemisphere in particular. European leaders are opposed to the idea.
But Biden’s remarks Monday signal that he doesn’t consider patent waivers or new factories in other countries central to the push to boost manufacturing. He said the world must “vastly” increase supply, “most of it here in the United States,” and said he wanted to create jobs at home.
“This will take longer than our immediate work to donate from the existing supplies, and we’re going to be asking other nations to help shoulder the economic cost of this effort, but the consequences will be more lasting and more dramatic,” he said. “Doing this will help us beat the pandemic and leave us with the manufacturing capacity here to prepare for the next crisis, the next vaccine needed.”
The U.S. can spur production abroad and at home even without a patent waiver, said Susan Ostermann, an assistant professor of global affairs at the University of Notre Dame. She suggested the administration should provide incentives for the pharmaceutical industry to cooperate, something Biden alluded to Monday.
“I do see a role for the U.S. and even a really big role, but I think there’s a lot more we can be doing to build capacity abroad,” she said in an interview. “There’s no need to be selfish when companies in the developing world can be producing vaccines more cheaply. We can do it; they can do it.”
Biden said he would “work with” Covax, a struggling UN-led effort to provide vaccines to low-income countries, to “ensure that the vaccines are delivered in a way that is equitable, that follows the science and the public health data,” but stopped short of pledging to donate doses of U.S. vaccines to the program.
Covax expects its shortfall to reach 190 million doses next month, UNICEF, one of its partners, said before Biden’s speech on Monday.
One of Biden’s top aides, Jeff Zients, will oversee efforts to send vaccines overseas. He’ll work with other officials, including Gayle Smith, a senior State Department official, who previously led the ONE Campaign, an antipoverty advocacy group that urged Biden on Monday to give doses to Covax.
Smith told CNN on Tuesday that recipient countries would be announced “soon” and based on data, not diplomatic objectives.
“This is only one component of a comprehensive plan,” she said.
Biden’s announcement “is a welcome step towards helping the world put out this four-alarm fire and we urge these doses to go to Covax, the most equitable mechanism for delivering vaccines globally,” the campaign’s acting Chief Executive Officer, Tom Hart said in a statement.
“The sooner the US and other wealthy countries develop a coordinated strategy for sharing vaccine doses with the world’s most vulnerable, the faster we will end the global pandemic for all,” he said.
Biden hasn’t said specifically which vaccines the U.S. plans to share or which countries will be first in line. He said the U.S. wouldn’t use the shots for diplomatic leverage, accusing China and Russia of doing so.
“We’ll share these vaccines in the service of ending the pandemic everywhere and we will not use our vaccines to secure favors from other countries,” he said.
Biden said he would work with other democracies to “coordinate a multilateral effort to end this pandemic” and that he expects to “announce progress in this area at the G-7 summit in the United Kingdom in June.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.