As the U.S. beats back Covid-19, other parts of the world—from Asia to Europe to Latin America—are suffering more than ever. Globally, there are more than 900,000 new cases and 13,000 deaths a day. The U.S. should immediately begin exporting Covid vaccines, not only to help others but also to prevent future outbreaks at home.
It is laudatory that the U.S. is donating $4 billion to Covax to buy vaccine for low- and middle-income countries and working to assist countries in setting up vaccine production facilities. But these efforts won’t save lives today. It takes the better part of a year to build and work out the kinks of a vaccine-production facility, and tight supply chains will make it hard for other countries to manufacture large volumes.
Even the 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine President Biden has pledged will take weeks to deliver. Only 10 million have been produced, and they need weeks of testing since they were produced in the troubled Baltimore Emergent factory. The other 50 million doses won’t be manufactured and available for months.
The U.S. needs to begin exporting
vaccines in the next few days. While the formal export ban expired at the end of March, the U.S. government still has contracts requiring delivery of tens of millions of doses. Washington also has leverage over vaccine exports because of a complex relationship between pharmaceutical companies and the government that includes the U.S. position on waiving patent rights on the vaccines at the World Trade Organization, Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccines, and the Defense Production Act, which is integral to optimizing supply chains for vaccine production.
The domestic Covid vaccine supply now exceeds demand. Some pharmacies are administering shots on a walk-in basis, and the mass-vaccination site at Philadelphia’s convention center went from giving 7,000 shots a day to a few hundred. Four thousand doses there were recently set to expire because of slack demand.
The seven-day rolling average peaked on April 13 at 3.38 million daily doses and has dropped below 2.3 million. Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are producing about four million doses a day—a daily oversupply of about 1.5 million doses—and production is only increasing.
The U.S. gains nothing by hoarding these shots. While 44% of all Americans (including children, for whom the vaccine hasn’t yet been authorized) have received at least one dose of vaccine, countries that are experiencing serious outbreaks have much lower vaccination percentages: Canada 34%, Sweden 25%, Turkey 16%, Brazil 14%, Mexico 10%, India 9% and Peru 3%.
Stopping outbreaks elsewhere would also serve U.S. interests. Uncontrolled spread of the virus breeds variants, which can come to the U.S. Some, such as the Brazilian P1 variant, spread more rapidly. Others, such as the U.K. B117, appear to be more deadly. Now there are worries about the B1617 variant spreading rapidly in India. New variants may eventually evade vaccines and reset the clock on Covid-19. Until a booster is available for them, there would be more U.S. deaths, more strain on American hospitals, and perhaps even more ruinous lockdowns.
There is no tension between exporting vaccines and achieving herd immunity. We have surplus vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and J&J. Today, more than 148 million Americans have received at least one dose, and more than 105 million are fully vaccinated. At the current, reduced pace, 70% of the population will be vaccinated by the start of August.
If “America is back,” as Mr. Biden has said, we need to lead, not be selfish. China and Russia are already using vaccine diplomacy to influence other countries. Places like the Philippines are trying to turn away Chinese vaccines and begging for American ones. Meeting this demand would enhance American soft power in the same way as the Pepfar program, which distributed anti-retrovirals to countries hard hit by HIV/AIDS.
The U.S. can allow Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to export a million or more Covid vaccines a day using Covax and bilateral aid facilities, prioritizing countries based on their Covid death tolls, stress on their health systems and economic impact. The need is especially great now in India, Latin America and Mongolia.
Export contracts should include language allowing the companies to slow delivery if the vaccines are needed in the U.S. If we can save people overseas by getting them vaccinated without sacrificing our own lives and well-being, it is our moral duty to do so.
Dr. Emanuel is vice provost for global initiatives and a professor of health policy at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Which Country has the World’s Best Health Care?” Mr. Nye is a professor of government emeritus at Harvard and served as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, 1994-95. He is author of “Do Morals Matter?”
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