White House weighs sending states' unused vaccine doses abroad — before they expire

4 months ago 31

The possibility of collecting unused Johnson & Johnson doses from states and redistributing them internationally represents a stunning turn of events for the drug maker. | Mary Altaffer/AP Photo

The Biden administration is considering donating states' unused doses of vaccine to countries in need, two senior officials involved in the discussions told POLITICO.

States have built up stores of unused Covid-19 vaccine doses in recent weeks as the number of people signing up for vaccinations has decreased. Some of those spare doses — including tens of thousands of Johnson & Johnson shots — are set to expire at the end of this month.

Senior Biden officials helping to plan how to share U.S. vaccines with other countries are deliberating shipping the surplus doses out before their expiration date, those same two officials said. Another senior administration official said the Biden team is also considering a plan to send abroad doses that will be delivered to states in the coming months but may go unused.

But sending states' unwanted vaccine to other nations poses several problems. Any country on the receiving end must have a robust distribution infrastructure and the ability to dole out the shots before they expire. The Biden administration also would have to work with receiving countries on contract language that includes an indemnification clause that protects a Covid-19 vaccine's maker against legal liability for things like adverse reactions to the shot.

The White House has faced growing pressure to donate coronavirus vaccines abroad amid devastating surges of infection in countries like India. Allowing unused doses to expire could further frustrate leaders abroad and American diplomats, and undermine President Joe Biden's pledge to make America a leader in the world's pandemic response.

The Biden administration has so far committed to sending 60 million doses of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine abroad by July 4. The White House has also said it will send another 20 million doses — some combination of J&J, Pfizer and Moderna shots — by the end of June.

The White House is expected to announce which countries will receive the first U.S. donations as soon as Thursday. One senior administration official familiar with the situation said the administration is only prepared to announce the recipients of the 20 million doses because the Food and Drug Administration is still reviewing the safety of AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by a contractor, Emergent BioSolutions, whose Covid-19 vaccine production line has been shut down over contamination issues.

The possibility of collecting unused J&J doses from states and redistributing them internationally represents a stunning turn of events for the drug maker. The nation’s only single-dose shot was originally heralded as a critical tool to fight the pandemic, but it has encountered a series of setbacks — including an ongoing shutdown of U.S. production after Emergent, J&J's American production partner, inadvertently ruined 15 million doses, and an 11-day pause for an investigation of a potential link between the shot and blood clots.

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