Is there an export ban on coronavirus vaccines to the United States?
There is no formal ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components, such as syringes, vials and filters. Companies that make vaccines, or items that jab makers need elsewhere in the world, are free to export them.
However, Washington used a war power known as the Defense Production Act to force private companies to fulfill its contracts before other orders. This has prompted manufacturers elsewhere, like the Serum Institute in India, to complain that they cannot purchase items they would normally import from the United States. Normally, the United States is the world’s largest exporter of syringes and needles, according to the OECD.
US officials have defended their use of DPA. “Making vaccines requires a lot of specialized equipment, and there just isn’t enough for everyone,” an administration official said this week. “There is just more global manufacturing happening all over the world than suppliers can currently support.”
In addition, the United States has a large stock of doses of Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine which they purchased early in the development process. Until recently, it rejected requests from other countries to share these blows.
So why did the United States export so few doses?
Joe Biden’s administration had said it would not send vaccines to other parts of the world until there was a plentiful supply in the United States, and its goal was to pass vaccines. vaccines in American arms.
Biden said during his speech to Congress on Wednesday, “We will become an arsenal of vaccines for other countries, just as America is an arsenal of democracy for the world. . .[But]all Americans will have access to it before that.
As supply has grown, the administration has come under pressure to share some of its stockpile, especially AstraZeneca vaccines, which have yet to be approved in the United States. But some in the administration are concerned that more doses will be needed in the future to combat new strains or to give annual booster shots.
What is the impact of the Defense Production Act?
DPA has been used dozens of times to ensure that manufacturers prioritize medical equipment needed to fight the pandemic. The masks, gowns, syringes and N95 vials were all purchased under DPA terms, allowing the government to dictate which national contracts are to be executed first.
One consequence of this is that pharmaceutical companies have warned hospitals to expect shortages of certain drugs later in the year as the equipment normally used to produce them has been diverted to manufacturing. equipment and drugs to fight Covid-19.
The DPA does not allow the administration to block overseas exports, and officials have said foreign vaccine makers are struggling to source ingredients simply because global demand is so high. As a result, the Biden administration announced this week that it will send its own supplies to make AstraZeneca vaccines to India.
Is there anything to stop the Biden administration from shipping finished doses it owns overseas?
Industry executives and government officials said a clause was inserted in the original contracts signed between Donald Trump’s administration and vaccine makers, which prohibited the government from exporting doses it possessed . Officials said drugmakers wanted the clause to protect them from possible lawsuits from people overseas claiming doses made in the United States had made them sick.
Paul Mango, the former deputy chief of staff in the health department under the Trump administration, said: “Even the president cannot export them without somehow ensuring that the pharmaceutical companies do not become responsible when they leave the country. “
Biden officials did not say how they overcame this legal hurdle by agreeing to export 4 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada and Mexico, and an additional 60 million to the rest of the world. But the answer may lie in the complex arrangement for both Canada and Mexico, where the doses are technically “on loan” on the grounds that the two countries will return the manufactured doses to their own countries at a later date.
Will the Biden administration agree to suspend patents for vaccines?
India and South Africa presented a proposal to the World Trade Organization in Geneva to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for medical products linked to a pandemic. The proposal has since been supported by 60 countries.
As the Trump administration has strongly opposed the waiver of intellectual property rules, along with the UK, EU and Switzerland, Biden’s top trade official, Katherine Tai, has rocked US pharmaceutical companies by appearing to review this position.
Her office said the agency was “exploring all avenues” and “evaluating the effectiveness” of the waiver, and Tai told the WTO she wanted to know more about “how the market has once again failed to meet the health needs of developing countries “.
Supporters of a waiver of WTO intellectual property rules, known as trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, or travel, said the temporary suspension of the rules would allow more countries to development to make their own copies of vaccines without fear of prosecution for Intellectual Property Infringements.
Pharmaceutical companies, however, strongly oppose such a waiver, arguing that the lack of available manufacturing capacity creates bottlenecks rather than intellectual property protections.
Will this be enough?
Experts warn that even if a waiver is granted, it will take much longer to ensure the rest of the world has enough vaccines. Many people are calling for mRNA vaccine manufacturers in particular to help set up manufacturing centers overseas, as their technology appears to be the best for tackling the newer variants.
“We need to establish vaccine manufacturing centers, with technology transfer, to get the mRNA vaccine operational elsewhere,” said Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “MRNA vaccines are much less sensitive to production delays, they are much easier to modify for variants, they are probably both safer and more effective, and they start production faster. Something like this needs to be done today. “