US only ships a fraction of promised vaccine doses overseas as deadline draws near

The delay comes at a time when low and middle-income countries around the world are battling a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases in part due to the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

A senior administration official said the Biden team sent more than five million doses overseas, adding that the United States would release more for shipment later this week. The official did not specify which countries had received these doses and whether they had gone through COVAX or the direct donation pipeline.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that sending doses to the rest of the world was a “Herculean logistical challenge.”

“We have to make sure that there is – safety and regulatory information is shared,” Psaki said. “Some procurement teams need needles, syringes and alcohol swabs. “Teams need to make sure there is an appropriate storage temperature, prevent breakage, and ensure the vaccine goes through customs immediately.”

But the obstacles go beyond shipping logistics, said the two officials who spoke with POLITICO. Recipient countries must also agree to compensation language that protects the maker of a Covid-19 vaccine from legal liability for things like adverse vaccine reactions.

Countries participating in COVAX have accepted such a language when they enrolled in this program, but a separate compensation language negotiation process is required for direct donations. While direct donations often appear to be the most efficient way to get doses overseas, the process of negotiating compensation between countries and the manufacturer can often hamper timely deliveries, sources said.

The Biden team said Monday it plans to send the first 14 million doses of direct donations to “regional priorities and partners[s]», Including Colombia, Argentina, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Afghanistan, Gaza, Ukraine, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria , Kenya and Iraq.

In the meantime, the Biden administration is looking for better ways to ship doses overseas. The Department of Health and Human Services recently issued a tender for 14 temperature-controlled shipping containers that do not require the use of dry ice, according to a copy of the request obtained by POLITICO. The delivery date for sea containers is shown in September 2021.

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