April 25, 2021 – Less than five months after the first needle went into the first arm to deliver the first COVID-19 vaccine to a 90-year-old grandmother in the United Kingdom, the world celebrated the 1 billionth dose of coronavirus-blocking vaccine this weekend.
While it’s not clear who received the 1 billionth dose, or where it happened, the milestone alone is remarkable.
Remarkable, but not sufficient. Bloomberg reports that the world is dispensing 18.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines per day. At that pace, however it would take 19 months before even 75% of the world is vaccinated.
Worse, the geographic victories in the fight against COVID-19 are tilted heavily toward rich countries.
In India, where new daily cases have topped 300,000 for a week, just 1.4% of the population has been fully vaccinated, The Washington Post reported. Compare to that to the United States, where 25 % of adults are fully vaccinated and more than 40% have received at least one dose, while some states and cities are turning down doses due to lack of demand for the shots.
Criticism of the United States and United Kingdom has accelerated in recent days, as world leaders wonder why the countries are not sharing what appears to be a glut of vaccine.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Sunday spoke with Ajit Doval, his counterpart in India. In a statement, NSC spokesperson Emily Horne said the U.S. is committed to helping – but not with actual vaccine doses just yet.
“The United States is working around the clock to deploy available resources and supplies,” Horne said.
Horne said the U.S. it is making available “specific raw material” needed for India to manufacture its Covidshield vaccine, and will provide the country with drugs, test kits, ventilators and personal protective equipment as well. The U.S. will also help India with other materials and pay to help expand manufacturing capability for BioE, which manufacturers the vaccine in India.
But U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-IL, who was born in India, has urged the Biden administration to release excess vaccines.
“We are currently sitting on close to 40 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the U.S. stockpile, a stockpile which we’re not using and which we’ve already opened to combat COVID-19 in Mexico and Canada,” Krishnamoorthi, a member of the special House subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic, said in a statement April 24.
The U.S. did ship 4 million doses of vaccine to its neighbors to the north and south in March.
“In order to curb the spread of this virus internationally and to protect public health and our international economy, we need to get these vaccines out the door now. I respectfully but strongly call on the Biden administration to release millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses to countries hardest hit by the spread of COVID-19, including India, Argentina, and potentially others.”
Asked about the plan for sharing unused American vaccines with other countries, Biden was noncommittal.
“We’re in the process of doing that,” he said Wednesday. “We’ve done a little bit of that already. We’re looking at what is going to be done with some of the vaccines that we are not using. We’re going to make sure they are safe to be sent. And we hope to be able to be of some help and value to countries around the world.”