The US is yet to decide country-specific allocations for the first tranche of 25 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines it will donate though figures will be determined in consultation with governments and the WHO-backed COVAX facility, a top American official said on Friday.
Gayle Smith, the state department coordinator for the global Covid-19 response, told a virtual news briefing that the US will match donations from its surplus stock of vaccines to doses used by countries in their national immunisation programmes.
Smith declined to set a timeframe for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) giving its approval for the 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine the US plans to donate, but said the American side is hopeful the clearance will come soon.
President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled US plans for sharing the first tranche of 25 million doses out of a total of 80 million doses around the world, with 75% or 19 million doses to be rolled out through COVAX. This includes seven million doses for Asia, six million for South and Central America and five million for Africa.
The US will share another six million doses directly with partners, and India is the only country expected to get doses both directly and through COVAX.
Smith said, “In terms of the actual number of doses, we’ve done some notional planning but the refinement of the actual dose numbers will be determined in consultation with governments and their health experts, the state of their vaccine plans and delivery, and with COVAX.
“So we want to be careful about putting a number out there out because we want to work all of those pieces to make sure we’ve got the numbers right. But I think they will be substantial numbers.”
With the first tranche comprising Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, Smith said the US “will be trying to match vaccines to [national] vaccine programmes where we can” so that the doses can be effectively deployed. The US will also take into account factors such as regulatory approvals and cold chain facilities, she said.
Smith said the US’s ability to roll out its surplus stocks of AstraZeneca vaccines will depend on clearance from the FDA. Since the FDA is an autonomous regulatory public health agency, the administration cannot interfere in its work, she noted.
“So we are hopeful we will get a clearance soon. We are not in a position to say when that will come through because that’s the purview of the FDA,” she said.
In response to a question from a journalist from Bhutan, which carried out the first round of its vaccination programme with AstraZeneca jabs donated by India but now has no vaccines for its second round, Smith said the US is aware of this issue and the AstraZeneca doses will be key to addressing the matter.
“Many countries are in urgent need of vaccines, this is only the beginning. We have in excess of 60 million doses to deploy,” she said.
Jeremy Konyndyk, the executive director of the USAID Covid-19 task force, who also addressed the briefing, said the donation of 25 million doses will play an important role in helping COVAX manage some of its supply gaps and tide over a shortage of jabs. COVAX is a key partner in the equitable distribution of doses because of its logistics for global distribution and legal regulatory agreements with various countries, he said.
He, however, acknowledged it will take “quite a while to vaccinate the world” and said the US, in the interim, will help countries tackle surges through funding for diagnostics to detect and manage transmissions and for bolstering health systems.