Biden plans to send COVID shots to Mexico, Canada

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States (US) is planning to send a combined four million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Mexico and Canada in its first export of shots, the White House said yesterday.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration is in the process of finalising efforts to distribute 2.5 million doses to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada as a “loan”. The details are still being worked out.

“Our first priority remains vaccinating the US population,” Psaki said at the daily briefing. But she added that “ensuring our neighbours can contain the virus is a mission critical step, is mission critical to ending the pandemic”.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has not been authorised for use in the US, but the company is expected to share results of its late-stage US study and apply for clearance in the coming weeks. The World Health Organization (WHO), European regulators and dozens of countries have allowed the shots based on studies done in the United Kingdom (UK) and elsewhere.

Tens of millions of doses have been stockpiled in the US should it receive authorisation, sparking an international outcry that lifesaving doses are being withheld when they could be used elsewhere.

US President Joe Biden signs the American Rescue Plan, a coronavirus relief package, in the Oval Office of the White House. PHOTO: AP

Over the past week several nations suspended their use of the vaccine following reports of clots in a few dozen of the millions of people across Europe who have gotten the shot. On Thursday, Europe’s medicines regulator said the shots do not increase the overall risk of clots and the benefits far outweigh the risks. Still, the debate raised fears that the safety question would undermine confidence in AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is key to immunisation efforts in several countries.

Psaki said multiple nations have requested access to the US vaccines, but she didn’t have anything to add on further distributions.

Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said via Twitter that Mexico was receiving the vaccine as a result of the conversation between US President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador earlier this month. “Good news!” he wrote.

“They are coming to our rescue,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford, the leader of Canada’s most populous province. He thanked Biden for his willingness to share the vaccines.

“And once I get them I will call you a champion, but I need to get the delivery first, so thank you. I appreciate it. We’ve been waiting. That’s what true neighbours do. They help each other in a crisis,” he said. “We will take all the vaccines you can give us, so that’s fabulous news.”

The Biden administration has said that once US citizens are vaccinated, the next step is ensuring Canada and Mexico are able to manage the pandemic so the borders can reopen.

Although Canada’s economy is tightly interconnected with the US, Washington hasn’t allowed any of the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses made in America to be exported until now, and Canada has had to turn to Europe and Asia.

The vaccine supply chain difficulties have forced Canada to extend the time between the first shot and the second by up to four months so that everyone can be protected faster with the primary dose. The hope is to get all adults at least one shot by the end of June.

Canadian regulators have approved the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, but acquiring them has proven difficult.