WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. will begin sharing its entire inventory of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines with the world once federal security clearances are completed, the White House said on Monday. Up to 60 million cans are expected to be available for export to the US in the coming months.
The move greatly expands the Biden government’s efforts last month to share approximately 4 million doses of the vaccine with Mexico and Canada. The AstraZeneca vaccine is widely used around the world, but has not yet been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
The White House is increasingly confident that the three vaccines will be given in the US, especially after the Johnson & Johnson single-dose restart over the weekend. The U.S. has also been under increasing pressure in recent weeks to share more of its vaccine supply with the world as countries like India suffer devastating virus floods and others struggle to access doses needed to protect their most vulnerable populations.
“Given the strong portfolio of vaccines the US already owns that have been FDA approved and the AstraZeneca vaccine is not approved for use in the US, we need the AstraZeneca vaccine here in the next Years don’t use months, ”said Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 coordinator. “So the US is looking into options to share the AstraZeneca cans with other countries as soon as they become available.”
More than 3 million people have died of COVID-19 worldwide, including more than 572,000 in the United States. The U.S. has vaccinated more than 53% of its adult population with at least one dose of its three approved vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J by early summer, an adequate supply of the entire population is expected.
Approximately 10 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine have been made but have yet to be reviewed by the FDA to “meet product quality expectations,” Zients said, noting that the US regulator is recognized as the “gold standard” for safety around the world . This process could be completed in the next few weeks. About 50 million more cans are in various stages of production and could be shipped by FDA approval in May and June.
The US has yet to determine where the AstraZeneca cans should go, Zients said. Neighbors Mexico and Canada have asked the Biden government to share more doses while dozens of other countries are trying to get access to the vaccines.
“We’re in the planning process at this point,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki when asked where the cans would go.
The AstraZeneca cans are being donated by the US government, which has signed a contract with the company for a total of 300 million cans – despite the company facing production problems.
The government’s move to share vaccines has been praised by nongovernmental aid groups who have encouraged the White House to develop plans to share even more doses.
“The Biden government’s decision to begin distributing AstraZeneca vaccines is welcome news and an important first step in helping the US share more of its massive vaccine supply,” said Tom Hart, acting CEO of The ONE Campaign . “The Biden government should build on this welcome first step and exchange more vaccines as soon as possible.”
AstraZeneca’s doses in the US were made at an Emergent BioSolutions facility in Baltimore, which has come under increased government and public scrutiny after botching batches of the J&J vaccine. The US urged J&J to take over the facility and, as part of an effort to ensure the quality of newly manufactured vaccines, directed the facility to stop manufacturing the AstraZeneca shot. AstraZeneca is still looking for a new US manufacturing facility for its future cans.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine was originally intended to be the first to receive emergency government approval, and the U.S. government ordered enough for 150 million Americans before problems with the vaccine’s clinical trial halted its release. The company’s 30,000-person US study didn’t complete registration until January and has not yet filed for emergency approval with the FDA.