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U.S. not planning to share AstraZeneca vaccine stockpile with other countries

“We’re rightly focused on getting Americans vaccinated as soon as possible,” White House coronavirus coordinator Jeffrey Zients said.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. has no plans to share its stockpile of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine with other countries despite requests from the European Union and others who say they could use the doses immediately while the U.S. waits on further data to clear the vaccine, administration officials say.

The U.S. has a “small inventory” of the AstraZeneca vaccine that it plans to hold on to so it can get doses quickly to Americans if the vaccine receives clearance from the Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks, said White House coronavirus coordinator Jeffrey Zients.

“We’re rightly focused on getting Americans vaccinated as soon as possible,” Zients said when asked Friday about sharing the doses with other countries.

The Food and Drug Administration is currently waiting for additional data on the AstraZeneca vaccine, which should be coming this month, before deciding whether to clear the vaccine for use in the U.S. But with the vaccine already being used in Europe, officials there have asked the U.S. to share some of its stockpiled doses in the interim to help with vaccine shortages in the European Union, according to media reports.

Even without the AstraZeneca vaccine, the U.S. has said it has contracts for enough doses from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnsons to vaccinate every American by the end of May with the potential for an additional 100 million doses coming after that from J&J. Administration officials have said they want to be overprepared in case of manufacturing disruptions, the emergence of new variants, and the potential to vaccinate children starting as early as the fall.

“We also want to make sure we have maximal flexibility, that we are oversupplied and overprepared and that we have the ability to provide vaccines, whatever the most effective ones are, to the American public,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “There are still 1,400 people who are dying in our country every single day, and we need to focus on addressing that.

If the AstraZeneca vaccine is approved, the U.S. is contracted to receive up to 300 million doses. Psaki didn’t say how many doses the company currently has supplied to the U.S. Recent safety concerns about the vaccine have emerged though with several European countries halting the rollout of the vaccine this week because of reports some patients suffered blood clots.

Psaki said the U.S. has turned down a number of requests from other countries for vaccine doses.

International groups have criticized the U.S. for monopolizing the global supply of the vaccine, taking up limited production capacity and raw ingredients to get vaccines to Americans and leaving other countries scrambling for doses. AstraZeneca has encouraged the White House to consider giving the doses to the European Union, according to a statement to Bloomberg News.

The White House announced plans last month to contribute up to $4 billion to a global Covid-19 vaccine program aimed at assisting developing countries, including an initial $2 billion to a World Health Organization-backed program called COVAX that supports access to vaccines for 92 countries. The remaining $2 billion will be contributed over the next two years, including an additional $500 million when other donor pledges are fulfilled and initial doses are delivered.

The U.S. agreed Friday to work with India, Japan and Australia to get up to 1 billion doses to countries in Asia and the Indio-Pacific region by the end of 2022, said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

The global aid organization UNICEF has said countries that have vaccinated their own health workers and populations at highest risk of severe disease should share vaccine doses with other countries so they can do the same. Nearly 130 countries, with 2.5 billion people, have yet to administer a single dose, the group said Feb. 10, which UNICEF called a “self-defeating strategy” that will give further opportunity for the virus to mutate.

Administration officials have acknowledged the importance of helping countries around the world get the vaccine in order to stop the pandemic, but have insisted they focus first on getting Americans vaccinated.

“We will continue to prioritize getting all Americans vaccinated, as quickly as possible while at the same time, understanding this is a global pandemic and making as big a contribution as we possibly can to worldwide efforts to get everyone else vaccinated,” said Zients.