24 April 2021

Vanity Fair: “Why the U.S. still can’t donate COVID-19 Vaccines to Countries in Need”

At the heart of the debate was a battle over an essential question: how to define the point at which the U.S. could donate its excess vaccine. Was it when the U.S. reached herd immunity? When enough vaccines for every eligible American were under contract to be produced? Or when 70% of the population was vaccinated? We kicked around a lot of indicators, said a former senior administration official who worked on the document. The one that became the most cut and dry was the quantity produced and the population vaccinated.

That effort led to the creation of The Framework for International Access, which affirms that the U.S. intends to share its doses and will do so multilaterally. The document had two versions: one that came to roughly four pages, and a longer one, as well as a spreadsheet that assessed the needs of each country that might receive vaccines. Several countries were pointedly excluded from the list of prospective recipients, said the former senior administration official, due to their instability or human rights records.

Katherine Eban

I have linked to this article in my latest update about the pandemic in Romania, and I have read it in full since. My initial reaction has remained largely unchanged: a bunch of weak excuses for saying that American lives and ‘freedoms’ are more important than helping the rest of the world. The story of this framework, developed during the Trump administration, but left unsigned by the Biden administration for various questionable reasons, sounds like the most bureaucratic excuse possible.

Daily COVID vaccine doses United States
Daily Count of Total Doses administered in the United States

Meanwhile, the vaccination rates have started to decline in the United States over the past week, leaving them with an estimated 100 Million excess doses in storage – enough to vaccinate several small countries! During this time, the European Union managed to distribute vaccines to member states – and inoculation has picked up the pace recently with increased supplies – and to export doses all over the world, including to US neighbors Canada and Mexico. One might argue that the EU did not actually had tools to stop vaccine exports until recently, but the fact remains that the United States chose a selfish policy and is doubling down this path despite the dire situation outside their borders.

A series of scares in the early 2000s, including the 2001 anthrax attacks on members of Congress and the press and the 2004 worldwide outbreak of H5N1 “bird flu”, prompted Congress to pass the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act. The 2005 law gives manufacturers of vaccines and therapeutics developed in response to public health emergencies sweeping protection from liability, and makes the U.S. government a guarantor of that protection.

The law provides an almost Star Trek–level ‘shields up’, said Nicholas Pace, a senior social scientist at the RAND Corporation. But the moment that vial walks across the border, PREP has no effect. The cross-border liability problem is a huge one.

According to a briefing document prepared during the Trump administration for the National Security Council, a portion of which was obtained by Vanity Fair: This type of liability protection is unique in the world; most other countries provide no protection at all and only in some cases provide some level of legal protection.

Also, what sort of government gives drug companies failproof protection from liability, instead of protecting their citizens?! A corrupt government I would argue, drunk on lobbying funds. I am relieved that the European Union has placed the liability for current vaccines on the drug makers, unlike the UK and US.

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