In a sign that the EU might be having second thoughts following objections from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Brussels sent Washington a letter last week urging Biden to accelerate exports of COVID-19 vaccines to help countries like India, and many other developing economies, which are desperately lagging the developed world, and even - according to some scientists - threatening to revive COVID by allowing dangerous mutant strains to fester.
It appears President Biden as settled on a response, and in doing so, marked the latest suggestion hat speeding up exports and increased supply sharing might be the compromise offered by the developed world to countries like India and South Africa, in exchange for giving up IP protections that numerous CEOs and lobbyists have warned is "the lifeblood" of the global biotech industry.
Bloomberg reports that for the first time, the US will send vaccines abroad as President Biden plans to send 20MM doses of shots from Moderna, Pfizer and J&J. This is the first time the US has voluntarily given up vaccines produced by the companies that have already received the FDA's stamp of approval (previously, Biden promised to share a 60M stockpile of AstraZeneca jabs). Mexico and Canada have already received doses of AstraZeneca, and Pfizer has already shippeddoses of its US-produced vaccine to countries including Mexico, Canada and Uruguay as part of private deals
Biden will also announce that he is putting Jeff Zients, who has served as the White House coronavirus response coordinator, in charge of his effort to beat back the global pandemic. But the appointment of Zients is more than anything a signal to the WHO and Dr. Tedros - who was warning about "vaccine apartheid" just hours ago - that Washington will make international needs a bigger priority - especially amid growing evidence that demand for vaccines in the US is waning, even though the Administration hasn't yet hit its goal of 70% of adults vaccinated, though the US is set to cross the threshold of 60% of adults having received at least one jab - while vaccination of minors below the age of 16 is just beginning.
Biden has previously promised not to share American-made jabs until he had secured enough supply for the entire US population. But as questions about demand rise, many are starting to wonder whether that threshold has already been crossed.
US caseloads have fallen dramatically, alongside hospitalizations and deaths. But fears about mutant strains that can defeat the vaccines linger. The other day, eight yankees including one player tested positive, but all but one were asymptomatic, raising questions whether tests might still be too sensitive, and reflecting too many false positives.
Source: Johns Hopkins Data
Whatever happens with the rate of vaccinations in the US, the plan is "a watershed moment in the pandemic and a pivot for Biden’s administration, BBG said. The US government, under two presidents, claimed nearly all of the first several hundred million doses of vaccines produced on its soil. That approach allowed Biden to advance what has been one of the most successful domestic vaccination campaigns in the world, with Bill Gates as his cheerleader. Now, criticism about Gates' status as unofficial global vaccine czar is intensifying (just as his divorce is being splattered across the headlines), after Washington broke with Gates by signaling support for an IP waiver.
BBG added that the issue has also been a fraught one for Biden, as he tries to absorb many of the "America First" leanings that proved to be so popular under his predecessor.
To be sure, 20M vaccines is more of a token, and won't really do all that much to help assuage the outbreak raging in India, and in other countries across at least three Continents.
So the question now is: will the US, perhaps joined by Europe, the UK and Japan, commit to regular offerings of vaccines? Or will we see Washington signal that the IP waiver will be its preferred tool for assisting developing nations?