By Yuka Hayashi, Sabrina Siddiqui and Andrew Restuccia 

WASHINGTON -- The Biden administration moved to sharply ramp up Covid-19 vaccine exports to other countries, following calls for the U.S. to bolster efforts to curb the coronavirus globally as it rages unchecked in developing nations.

The U.S. plans to share 20 million doses of vaccines produced by Moderna Inc., Pfizer Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, the White House said. That is on top of 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine previously promised for export, though it hasn't yet been authorized for use in the U.S.

President Biden said on Monday that 80 million vaccine doses are expected to be exported by the end of June. Delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine doses will be dependent on a review by the Food and Drug Administration, the White House said.

"We know America can never be fully safe until the pandemic that's raging globally is under control," Mr. Biden said.

The U.S. has faced criticism both at home and abroad for policies that prioritized the vaccination of Americans, in part through contracts that required vaccine manufacturers to deliver most of their initial production to the U.S. government.

The U.S. as of last week had produced more than 333 million doses of vaccine and exported about three million doses, far less than other major vaccine-producing nations, according to data from Airfinity, a London research firm.

By comparison, China has shipped 252 million doses overseas, or 42% of its total production, while the European Union has exported 111 million doses, more than one-third of its total output. Russia has exported 27 million doses.

In his remarks Monday, Mr. Biden said that the 80 million doses would be far more than any other nation has donated to date, drawing a distinction with vaccines that were sold by other countries.

The low U.S. export numbers reflect a policy aimed at vaccinating Americans first, but now called into question as domestic inoculations rise and demand wanes.

The U.S. had vaccinated 48% of its population at least partially as of Sunday, compared with 32% for the EU and 9.8% for Russia, according to Our World in Data. China has administered 407 million vaccines domestically, inoculating roughly 30% of its population. Beijing has pledged to donate 17.6 million doses to 65 countries.

Tom Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it was understandable for advanced nations to prioritize their own high-risk citizens, but the equation changes as vaccinations of that population nears completion.

Demand for vaccines declined in the U.S. in recent weeks after the number of daily doses administered reached a mid-April peak of 3.38 million. An average of 1.9 million doses were given each day over the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"There is a need for the United States to continue showing the urgency," Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D., Ore.) said. "I'm hopeful the administration is going to be putting on a full-court press to involve others in this challenge -- the industry and other rich countries all have a role to play."

In his remarks Monday, Mr. Biden said that Covid-19 cases had declined in all 50 states for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

Jeff Zients, the White House Covid-19 coordinator, will lead the administration's global vaccination efforts. Gayle Smith, a State Department official who is coordinating the U.S. role in the global coronavirus response, will also be a key part of the effort, Mr. Biden said.

The administration has also committed a combined four million AstraZeneca doses to Canada and Mexico.

Pressure on the U.S. to export more grew after Washington expressed its support for a World Trade Organization proposal to temporarily waive intellectual property rights for vaccines to speed up global production -- an idea opposed by European allies and pharmaceutical companies.

"I call very clearly on the U.S. to end the ban on exports of vaccines and on components of vaccines that prevent their production," French President Emmanuel Macron said on May 8.

Adar Poonawalla, chief executive of Serum Institute of India, a major manufacturers of AstraZeneca vaccines, took to twitter last month, asking Mr. Biden to "lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S. so vaccine production can ramp up."

In a May 3 letter to Mr. Biden, Michelle McMurry-Heath, head of Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a trade group, asked the government to allow companies to export vaccines from U.S. manufacturing facilities so they could rush doses to Covax and other countries.

U.S. officials have said that there was no outright ban on exports, but that domestic distribution was given priority under the Operation Warp Speed strategy implemented by the Trump administration and continued under the Biden White House.

Under that program, the U.S. government preordered hundreds of millions of vaccines from companies like Pfizer and Moderna even before their vaccines were authorized, which obligated the companies to fulfill those contractual volumes first.

The U.S. has also used the Defense Production Act to limit exports of vaccine ingredients and related equipment like vials and syringes needed to distribute and administer the vaccines. The Biden administration has employed the Korean War-era national security mobilization measure to give domestic vaccine makers the priority to receive U.S.-made components needed for manufacture. In return, the vaccine makers prioritize U.S. supply.

"DPA is just a prioritization of U.S. government contracts for U.S.-based manufacturing, and that's the extent of that," said Tim Manning, the supply coordinator for the White House Covid-19 Response Team. "There is just vastly more manufacturing and ordering of these consumables going on than the companies can supply."

Write to Sabrina Siddiqui at Sabrina.Siddiqui@wsj.com and Andrew Restuccia at andrew.restuccia@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 17, 2021 15:53 ET (19:53 GMT)

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