The Biden administration has already arranged to send four million unused shots to Mexico and Canada. That’s a welcome course correction, but the nation can and should give more. In separate reports, the Duke-Margolis Center and the Center for Strategic and International Studies have laid out a roster of options for doing so without imperiling the nation’s own vaccination efforts. Their suggestions include delaying some orders long enough for other countries to go first; donating more excess doses to Covax, the global cooperative working to pool vaccine resources; and using existing global health networks such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, to expedite shipments to countries facing the greatest need.
Questions surrounding the Covid-19 vaccine and its rollout.
The Biden administration should consider employing all of these measures, and should also renegotiate its contracts with vaccine makers so that such dose transfers no longer have to be masked as loans. The administration has several bargaining chips with which to effect such changes, including a federally held patent on a crucial component of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines that the government has not yet demanded full royalties for.
Suspend patents. Nearly 60 nations have petitioned the World Trade Organization to allow countries to temporarily override intellectual property rights for coronavirus-related drugs and vaccines, but so far the measure is languishing. The Biden administration should support this waiver, nudge vaccine makers into voluntary licensing agreements and help build the public-private partnerships needed to bring those agreements to fruition. It should also press companies to offer better deals to the countries trying to secure doses — no more absurd indemnity clauses that protect company profits over human lives.
Share technology and resources. More than eight months ago, the World Health Organization established a technology access pool where companies and countries could share their technology and expertise with governments trying to scale up vaccine manufacturing. The Biden administration signaled its willingness to participate in this effort back in January, but so far, the National Institutes of Health has not joined in, nor have the major vaccine makers. That needs to change quickly.
The administration should also lift any embargoes resulting from its use of the Defense Production Act. President Biden was wise to use this law to bolster domestic vaccine production, but that move has also prevented companies from exporting raw materials. As a result, production lines in India and elsewhere are at risk of shutting down for want of key ingredients available in the United States. The administration could help keep those facilities running by lifting those strictures.
Build more capacity. Experts say that virtually no vaccines are being manufactured in Africa and that very few are being made in Latin America. The reasons for this shortcoming are complex — a longstanding underinvestment in regional capacity combined with an overreliance on multinational corporations. But the solutions to it are clear. Britain has managed to scale up its manufacturing capacity from just two plants at the start of the pandemic to four now, with two more under construction. There’s no reason the same can’t be done in other countries where the need is even greater. Throwing his weight behind such an effort could be one of Mr. Biden’s most enduring legacies.
Another good step would be to support the global pandemic preparedness treaty that the W.H.O. is urging, which, among other things, aims to strengthen manufacturing capacity around the world.