Roberto Maradiaga, 70, a retired doctor, is helped by his son Luis Roberto, while he waits for the Russian COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V, as part of a vaccination campaign in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Friday, April 23, 2021. Honduras has obtained a paltry 59,000 vaccine doses for its 10 million people. Similar gaps in vaccine access are found across Africa, where just 36 million doses have been acquired for the continent’s 1.3 billion people, as well as in parts of Asia. (AP Photo/Elmer Martinez)

Roberto Maradiaga, 70, a retired doctor, is helped by his son Luis Roberto, while he waits for the Russian COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V, as part of a vaccination campaign in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Friday, April 23, 2021. Honduras has obtained a paltry 59,000 vaccine doses for its 10 million people. Similar gaps in vaccine access are found across Africa, where just 36 million doses have been acquired for the continent’s 1.3 billion people, as well as in parts of Asia. (AP Photo/Elmer Martinez)

From scarcity to abundance: U.S. faces calls to share vaccines

The lack of U.S. vaccine assistance around the world has created an opportunity for China and Russia

Victor Guevara knows people his age have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in many countries. His own relatives in Houston have been inoculated.

But the 72-year-old Honduran lawyer, like so many others in his country, is still waiting. And increasingly, he is wondering why the United States is not doing more to help, particularly as the American vaccine supply begins to outpace demand and doses that have been approved for use elsewhere in the world, but not in the U.S., sit idle.

“We live in a state of defencelessness on every level,” Guevara said of the situation in his Central American homeland.

Honduras has obtained a paltry 59,000 vaccine doses for its 10 million people. Similar gaps in vaccine access are found across Africa, where just 36 million doses have been acquired for the continent’s 1.3 billion people, as well as in parts of Asia.

In the United States, more than one-fourth of the population — nearly 90 million people — has been fully vaccinated and supplies are so robust that some states are turning down planned shipments from the federal government.

This stark access gap is prompting increased calls across the world for the U.S. to start shipping vaccine supplies to poorer countries. That’s creating an early test for President Joe Biden, who has pledged to restore American leadership on the world stage and prove to wary nations that the U.S. is a reliable partner after years of retrenchment during the Trump administration.

J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice-president and director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, said that as the U.S. moves from vaccine scarcity to abundance, it has an opportunity to “shape the outcomes dramatically in this next phase because of the assets we have.”

Biden, who took office in January as the virus was raging in the U.S., has responded cautiously to calls for help from abroad.

He has focused the bulk of his administration’s vaccinations efforts at home. He kept in place an agreement struck by the Trump administration requiring drugmakers that got U.S. aid in developing or expanding vaccine manufacturing to sell their first doses produced in the country to the U.S. government. The U.S. has also used the Defence Production Act to secure vital supplies for the production of vaccine, a move that has blocked the export of some supplies outside the country.

White House aides have argued that Biden’s cautious approach to promises around vaccine supply and delivery was validated in the wake of manufacturing issues with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the subsequent safety “pause” to investigate a handful of reported blood clots. In addition, officials say they need to maintain reserves in the U.S. to vaccinate teenagers and younger children once safety studies for those age groups are completed and if booster shots should be required later.

The White House is aware that the rest of the world is watching. Last month, the U.S. shared 4 million vaccine doses with neighbouring Canada and Mexico, and this past week, Biden said those countries would be targets for additional supplies. He also said countries in Central America could receive U.S. vaccination help, though officials have not detailed any specific plans.

The lack of U.S. vaccine assistance around the world has created an opportunity for China and Russia, which have promised millions of doses of domestically produced shots to other countries, though there have been production delays that have hampered the delivery of some supplies. China’s foreign minister Wang Yi said this month that China opposes “vaccine nationalism” and that vaccines should become a global public good.

Professor Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute and a vaccinologist, said wealthy countries have a stake in the success of vaccination efforts in other corners of the world.

“Beyond the moral obligation, the problem is that if there is not going to be control of the epidemic globally, this may ultimately backfire for these rich countries, if in areas where vaccines are not available variants emerge against which the vaccines might not work,” Hanekom said.

The U.S. has also faced criticism that it is not only hoarding its own stockpiles, but also blocking other countries from accessing vaccines, including through its use of the law that gives Washington broad authority to direct private companies to meet the needs of the national defence.

Adar Poonawalla, chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest maker of vaccines and a critical supplier of the U.N.-backed COVAX facility, asked Biden on Twitter on April 16 to lift the U.S. embargo on exporting raw materials needed to make the jabs.

India is battling the world’s fastest pace of spreading infections. Its government has blocked vaccine exports for several months to better meet needs at home, exacerbating the difficulty of poor countries to access vaccine.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ 2020 annual report also raised eyebrows for a section titled “Combatting malign influences in the Americas,” which said the U.S. had convinced Brazil to not buy the Russian shot.

The U.S. Embassy denied exerting any pressure regarding vaccines approved by Brazil’s health regulator, which has not yet signed off on Sputnik V. Since March 13, Brazil has been trying to negotiate supply of U.S. surplus vaccines for itself, according to the foreign ministry.

There are also concerns that the U.S. might link vaccine sharing to other diplomatic efforts. Washington’s loan of 2.7 million doses of AstraZeneca’s shots to Mexico last month came on the same day Mexico announced it was restricting crossings at its southern border, an effort that could help decrease the number of migrants seeking entry into the United States.

Those sort of parallel tracks of diplomacy will be closely watched as the Biden administration decides with whom to share its surplus vaccine, particularly in Central America, home to many countries where migrant families and unaccompanied children are trying to make their way to the U.S.

“What we would hope to avoid is any perception that increased access to lifesaving vaccines in Central America is in exchange for increased tightening of border security,” said Maureen Meyer, vice-president for programs at the Washington Office on Latin America.

READ MORE: Future nurses, doctors want lessons from pandemic to create better health-care system

As the wait for vaccines continues in Honduras, desperation is growing.

Last week, a private business group announced it would try to buy 1.5 million vaccine doses to help government efforts, though it was unclear how it might obtain them. In March, authorities in Mexico seized 5,700 doses of purported Russian vaccines found in false bottoms of ice chests aboard a private plane bound for Honduras. The company owner who chartered the plane said he was trying to obtain vaccines for his employees and their families. The vaccine’s Russian distributor said the vaccines were fake.

Lilian Tilbeth Hernández Banegas, 46, was infected with COVID-19 in late November and spent 13 days in a Tegucigalpa hospital. The first days she struggled to breathe and thought she would die.

The experience has made the mother of three more anxious about the virus and more diligent about avoiding it. The pandemic rocked her family’s finances. Her husband sells used cars, but hasn’t made a sale in more than four months.

“I want to vaccinate myself, my family to be vaccinated, because my husband and my children go out to work, but it’s frustrating that the vaccines don’t arrive,” Hernández said.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, said Marco Tulio Medina, co-ordinator of the COVID-19 committee at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, noting his own government’s lackadaisical approach and the ferocity of the vaccine marketplace. But the wealthy can do more.

“There’s a lack of humanism on the part of the rich countries,” he said. “They’re acting in an egotistical way, thinking of themselves and not of the world.”

__

Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press journalists Christopher Sherman in Mexico City, Cara Anna in Nairobi, Aniruddha Ghosal in Delhi, Huizhong Wu in Taipei, David Biller in Rio de Janeiro, Gisela Salomon in Miami, Sonia Pérez D. in Guatemala City and Andrew Meldrum and Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg contributed to this report.

Marlon GonzáLez And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusUSAvaccines

Just Posted

Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen offices in Penticton. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen showcases local government

The RDOS has put together a video as part of Local Government Awareness Week

The future of the Okanagan Lake watershed land use will be subject of a new study supported by a $300,000 grant from the Vancouver Foundation. (Contributed)
Grant to help develop Okanagan Lake protection strategy

Study receives $300,000 grant from the Vancouver Foundation.

Doctor Jessica Luksts is being recognized on BC Family Doctor Day for her part in the early days of the pandemic. (Submitted)
Celebrate BC Family Doctor Day on May 19

The South Okanagan Similkameen has over 80 family doctors serving the community

The wildfire season in the Okanagan Valley region has been approached with greater apprehension and concern from area residents since the historic Okanagan Mountain Park fire in 2003. That fire burned 25,600 hectares, forced evacuations in Kelowna and Naramata impacting more than 33,000 people, destroyed 238 homes, and claimed 12 wooden trestles and damaged two other steel trestles in Myra Canyon. (File photo)
Ominous wildfire outlook if June rains don’t return to Okanagan

Dry spring is fueling potential for busy wildfire season in July and August

Jim Moring, left, hands 132 letters and emails to Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki. The 132 people support Moring speaking on their behalf at the public hearing on May 17 for the development at the Kampe Estate. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton neighbourhood rallying to speak as one against development of Kampe Estate

Resident Jim Moring delivered letters endorsing him to speak on the behalf of 132 people

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

A man and woman, both 33 and from Kelowna, were arrested on Postill Lake Forest Service Road in possession of two stolen vehicles Friday, May 14, 2021. (File photo)
Kelowna duo arrested with stolen vehicles after ‘brief’ bicycle getaway attempt

A man and a woman were arrested on a forest service road on numerous pending charges

The BC Conservation Officer Service (COS) handed out fines to two anglers on Shuswap Lake who were both casting more than one line, in violation of provincial regulations, Saturday, May 15, 2021. (COS photo)
Conservation officers snag Shuswap anglers for unlawful fishing

Two anglers were given $150 fines for casting two lines at once, against provincial regulations

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

Lynda Saundry, born 1961, is charged with the murder of North Okanagan resident Barry Jones in July 2020. Saundry will appear in Vernon court May 17, 2021, to fix a date for a preliminary inquiry. (Facebook public photo)
North Okanagan murder suspect to be tried by judge and jury

Lynda Saundry is charged with the first-degree murder of Barry Jones in July 2020

Vernon Search and Rescue’s Legacy vessel is returning to Okanagan Lake for boating season, the society said Friday, May 14, 2021. (VSAR photo)
Vernon Search and Rescue vessel returns to Okanagan Lake

VSAR’s Legacy is back with a fresh coat of paint and some other upgrades

People shop in Chinatown in Vancouver on Friday, February 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver community leaders call for action following 717% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes

‘The alarming rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada and south of the border shows Asians have not been fully accepted in North America,’ says Carol Lee

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

Most Read