Opinion | Let Our Doses Go!

The United States has more vaccines lined up than it needs. It should be distributing them to countries that have little to none.

By Zeynep Tufekci

Dr. Tufekci is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina and a contributing opinion writer.

Finally, the United States appears to have an enviable record in one aspect of the pandemic.

We are vaccinating our population at a rapid pace, and our supply has ramped up so much that the Biden administration predicts that by May, any adult in the United States will be eligible to get shots. Pfizer and Moderna are on track to deliver a total of 400 million doses by the end of May and 600 million by the end of July — that’s enough to fully vaccinate 300 million people. Johnson & Johnson says it will deliver 20 million doses this month, with tens of millions more on the way soon. Just those numbers would provide at least 80 million more vaccinations that are needed for everyone in America over the age of 16.

Why, then, are we sitting on tens of millions of doses of AstraZeneca vaccines that are gathering dust in our warehouses when they could immediately be distributed elsewhere? As of one month ago, there were 130 countries that had not yet administered a single dose of any Covid-19 vaccines. It’s not that much better now.

While not yet authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, and thus unavailable to be used in the United States, the AstraZeneca vaccine is already approved by the World Health Organization to be distributed as part of the Covax initiative to provide equitable global access to Covid-19 vaccines. So it could immediately start going to many countries that desperately need it right now. What’s more, it has much simpler storage requirements than other vaccines, which makes it less difficult to distribute.

Unfortunately, the decision this week by several European countries to suspend its use because several recipients developed blood clots is only the latest is a variety of problems AstraZeneca has had in its trials, reporting and rollout. A dosing error in an initial trial muddied the interpretation of efficacy results; insufficient initial data on older populations made European regulators skeptical.

However, that vaccine has been widely used successfully, especially in Britain, where more than 10 million doses have been administered. The results are more than encouraging. Data shows the risk of hospitalization among those vaccinated with it in Scotland was reduced 94 percent, for example.

Despite those pauses in vaccinations in Europe, the European regulatory agency has said there was “no indication that vaccination has caused” the clots and they were “firmly convinced” of the vaccine’s benefits. From what data was released, health experts noted that it does not appear as if the incidents exceeded what would be expected in the general population — Germany, for example, said it was investigating seven incidents out of 1.6 million people who received the vaccine there. The W.H.O., too, has urged countries to continue with the vaccination program.

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