Mr. Biden came into office vowing to restore America’s position as a leader in global health, and he has been under increasing pressure from activists, as well as some business leaders, to do more to address the global vaccine shortage. Earlier this year, he said he was reluctant to give away vaccine doses until the United States had enough for its own population, though he did promise in March to send a total of four million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to Mexico and Canada.
Those doses, it turned out, were made at a Baltimore facility owned by Emergent BioSolutions, where production has since been put on hold after an incident of contamination.
Mr. Biden’s pledge to donate 80 million doses involves vaccines made by four manufacturers. Besides AstraZeneca, they are Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, the last three of which have received U.S. emergency authorization for their vaccines. The president announced last month that his administration would send 20 million doses of the authorized vaccines overseas in June — the first time he had pledged to give away doses that could be used in the United States. Officials did not say on Thursday why that number had been increased by five million.
Last month, Mr. Biden announced he would send one million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to South Korea; a plane carrying those doses was expected to take off Thursday evening, Mr. Zients said.
Mr. Biden has also pledged to donate up to 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, but those doses, also made at the Emergent plant, are not authorized for domestic use and cannot be released until regulators deem them safe. In March, his administration committed to providing financial support to help Biological E, a major vaccine manufacturer in India, produce at least one billion doses of coronavirus vaccines by the end of 2022.
The president has described the vaccine donations as part of an “entirely new effort” to increase vaccine supplies and vastly expand manufacturing capacity, most of it in the United States. To broaden supply further, Mr. Biden recently announced he would support waiving intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines. He also put Mr. Zients in charge of developing a global vaccine strategy.
But activists say simply donating excess doses and supporting the waiver is not enough. They argue that Mr. Biden must create the conditions for pharmaceutical companies to transfer their intellectual property to vaccine makers overseas, so that other countries can stand up their own vaccine manufacturing operations.
Mr. Zients also said the United States was lifting the Defense Production Act’s “priority rating” for three vaccine makers — AstraZeneca, Novovax and Sanofi. None of those vaccines are authorized for U.S. use, and the shift means that U.S.-based companies that supply the vaccine makers will be able to “make their own decisions on which orders to fulfill first,” Mr. Zients said.
Abdi Latif Dahir contributed reporting.