National security officials in the Biden administration said India’s dire surge in cases and the continuing pandemic elsewhere justified releasing the doses from the US’s supplies of the shots. Supplies of other vaccines are projected to make shots available to every US adult by June.
An AstraZeneca vaccine is authorized in India but still awaiting an FDA go-ahead in the US. The company has not even formally applied for this authorization. A safety review of those shots will be performed by the FDA before they are shipped. Ten million doses are currently available, and another 50 million are in production. The US previously loaned 4 million AstraZeneca shots to Mexico and Canada.
“In short, this is good news but long overdue,” said Lawrence Gostin of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. “What we are seeing, however, is two classes of vaccines — one for the developed world and one for the poor. AstraZeneca hasn’t been authorized in the US, so it can be donated. But the US is hoarding highly effective vaccines like mRNA vaccines. I hope the US will begin to donate doses of all its vaccine stock. It is the ethically right thing to do, but also it is in our interests.”
Administration officials said the US will consider sharing more vaccines as the country’s supplies increase and the population is immunized.
Over the weekend, the European Union activated its medical assistance program to offer India oxygen and medical supplies, while Singapore and Saudi Arabia have also sent oxygen. Russia has also said it will fly medical assistance to India. The White House announced on Sunday that it was sending ventilators and protective equipment to India.
Peter Aldhous contributed reporting to this story.