Global health experts are calling on the U.S. government to send its stockpile of AstraZeneca-University of Oxford coronavirus vaccines to India immediately as health officials say they don’t anticipate using any of the doses.
During a news briefing on Tuesday, Andy Slavitt, the White House senior COVID-19 advisor, addressed a report stating that the country will be shipping 60 million doses to countries like India over the next two months.
‘We are in a position now where we can foresee that we will not be using the AztraZeneca doses that we expect to come on line,’ he said.
He clarified that none of the doses in the stockpile are available now because they have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but that they will begin sending shots once they are authorized.
However, doctors say India is facing a horrendous surge now and that waiting will only allow more hospitalizations and deaths to occur.
In a separate press conference on Tuesday, President Joe Biden said he has discussed with Prime Minister Nareem Modi about sending shots to the country.
We are sending actual mechanical parts that are needed for the machinery they have to build a vaccine,’ he said.
‘I’ve discussed from him when we’ll be able to send actual vaccines to India, which is my intention to do’
Andy Slavitt, the White House senior COVID-19 advisor, said on Tuesday that doesn’t foresee the U.S. using any of its AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine stockpile and will be sending them to other countries after FDA approval. Pictured: A doctor hold a vial of the AstraZenece vaccine near Munich, Germany, March 32
Doctors from Brown University and Harvard Medical School are calling on the U.S. to send its stockpile to India now as the country faces a surge of roughly 350,000 cases per day
‘We are sitting on 35-40 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine Americans will never use,’ Dr Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, wrote on Twitter last week.
‘Can we please give or lend them to India? Like maybe now? It’ll help. A lot.’
Other public health experts agreed, stressing that India is reporting a record number of infections – more than 350,000 – every day.
‘We should be diverting vaccine stock to India now,’ wrote Dr Adam Gaffney, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School tweeted.
‘Patents should be disregarded and technology transferred as needed to maximize global vaccine production everywhere.’
During the conference on Monday, Slavitt said the AstraZeneca vaccine is highly safe and effective, but that the U.S. has enough doses of vaccines already approved by the FDA without the 300 million ordered from the UK.
‘Since it is not approved for use in the U.S, we do not need to use the vaccine here during the next few months,’ he said.
‘We have sufficient supply of vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to accomodate our needs in the U.S.’
Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna shots, both of which use new technology known as messenger RNA (mRNA), AstraZeneca developed what is known as a viral vector vaccine.
The immunization combines genetic material from the new virus with the genes of the adenovirus, which causes the common cold.
It codes for the spike protein that the coronavirus uses to enter and infect cells in order to train the body to recognized the virus and induce an immune response if infected.
The storage requirements between the US and UK vaccines are also different.
Moderna’s vaccine needs to be shipped and stored at -4F (-20C) and Pfizer’s shot needs needs to be at -94 F (-70C), but AstraZeneca’s only requires refrigeration.
However, the White House is increasingly feeling assured about the supply of the three vaccines being administered in the U.S., particularly following the restart of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot over the weekend.
The U.S. has also been under mounting pressure in recent weeks to share more of its vaccine supply with the world, as countries like India experience devastating surges of the virus and others struggle to access doses needed to protect their most vulnerable populations.
‘Given the strong portfolio of vaccines that the U.S. already has and that have been authorized by the FDA, and given that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not authorized for use in the U.S., we do not need to use the AstraZeneca vaccine here during the next several months,’ said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients on Monday.
‘Therefore the U.S. is looking at options to share the AstraZeneca doses with other countries as they become available.’
About 10 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine have been produced but have yet to pass review by the FDA to ‘meet its expectations for product quality,’ Zients said, noting the U.S. regulator is recognized as the ‘gold standard’ for safety around the world.
That process could be completed in the next several weeks. About 50 million more doses are in various stages of production and could be available to ship in May and June pending FDA sign-off.
The U.S. has yet to finalize where the AstraZeneca doses will go, Zients said.
Neighbors Mexico and Canada have asked the Biden administration to share more doses, while dozens of other countries are looking to access supplies of the vaccine.
‘We’re in the planning process at this point in time,’ said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, when asked where the doses would go.