Friday May 28, 2021
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday May 28, 2021
As world grows desperate for COVID vaccine, US sits on tens of millions of unused doses
Despite offers of lottery winnings, amusement park tickets and even cold hard cash, unvaccinated Americans are leaving tens of millions of unused doses for COVID-19 sitting on the shelves.
Federal officials told state governors that as of earlier this week up to 53 million doses were still waiting to be ordered by the states – a staggering amount that, depending upon the type of vaccine, would offer protection against the virus to some 25 million people.
That federal surplus is in addition to an unknown number of vaccine doses waiting for arms at vaccination sites and pharmacies in states like Wyoming, Idaho, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama that have the lowest vaccination rates.
The potential glut comes as the world’s poorest countries are still waiting on vaccines to protect their health care workers and elderly. Only 0.3% of vaccine supply is going to low-income countries.
“We are right now in possession of a supply that could be shared, that we’re worried about expiring,” Arkansas GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson told the White House in phone call on Tuesday with other governors. Audio of the private call was obtained by ABC News.
The Biden administration insists that the number of wasted doses in the U.S. is extremely low and that the vast majority of supply is not at risk of expiring. But the idea of a growing vaccine surplus is a new dilemma for the White House, which took control when supply was scarce and the federal government still hadn’t purchased enough vaccine for every American. Now, with nearly 60 percent of eligible Americans having one shot, the pace of those shots has been cut in half in the past six weeks to 1.7 million a day.
Meanwhile, global outbreaks have prompted concerns of new mutations of the virus that could chip away at the effectiveness of vaccines and leave vaccinated Americans at risk.
“We are going to have this embarrassing accumulation of surplus,” said Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Morrison, who predicted as many as 30 percent of Americans will refuse the vaccine entirely, said the primary concern for the Biden team will be ensuring any U.S. recovery is “durable” before diverting supply.
“At the same time, we have this wildfire raging beyond our borders that they will have to address or else it will come back and bite us,” he said.
The Biden administration has pledged $4 billion to Covax, the global vaccine effort, and promised to donate 20 million doses of the vaccines currently available in the U.S. by the end of June – a fraction of the 800 million the U.S. says it is buying from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. The administration also plans to export 60 million doses of AstraZeneca, a vaccine used overseas but not cleared yet by U.S. regulators. (ABC News)