Initiatives and Benefits of the United States’ Vaccine Diplomacy

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TACOMA, Washington — In March 2021, the Biden administration announced its intention to donate millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses to its North American neighbors, a crucial step in what is being termed “vaccine diplomacy.” Under this plan, the United States would lend 2.5 million doses to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada, out of its current stockpile of seven million AstraZeneca vaccines. The ambitious plan will aid these countries in meeting their vaccination goals, allowing for a greater degree of protection across the continent and increasing the likelihood of curbing transmission of COVID-19. The United States’ first steps toward vaccine diplomacy are crucial for ending the pandemic worldwide and encouraging greater global cooperation for vaccine aid.

Four Million Doses to Mexico and Canada

Vaccine diplomacy has practical as well as diplomatic motives. To ensure the global public’s protection, greater access to vaccines will accelerate the end of the pandemic. While the United States has fully vaccinated more than 12% of its population as of mid-March 2021, Canada has vaccinated 1.7% of its population and Mexico has vaccinated 0.5%. Widespread vaccination is needed to prevent the spread of the virus worldwide, contingent on wealthier countries’ willingness to make vaccine doses affordable and available to other nations.

The choice of the AstraZeneca vaccine is also grounded in regulatory restrictions. Although Canada, Mexico and dozens of other nations have approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, it hasn’t yet received emergency authorization in the United States. With the stockpile of doses sitting unused, the U.S. plans to donate the supply. Still, the U.S. wants repayments by AstraZeneca later in the year. Under the agreement, Canada and Mexico must return any leftover doses to the United States. Since the U.S. acquired a greater stockpile of vaccines than needed to inoculate the entire country, other nations have requested additional doses.

Support for Biden’s Decision

This decision received praise as it avoided wasting unused vaccine doses and curbed the spread of variants globally. “It doesn’t make sense for the U.S. to sit on excess supply of vaccines for the future and watch them go out of date while the virus continues to spread unchecked in other countries and more people continue to die – this is a great opportunity for the U.S. to lead the way and accelerate global access to COVID vaccines now,” said Carolyn Reynolds, the co-founder of the Pandemic Action Network. Increasing vaccination rates to stop more highly transmissible COVID-19 variants is especially critical to ending the pandemic.

The United States’ Vaccine Diplomacy Engagements

The Biden administration announced in January that it would contribute $4 billion to COVAX, the global organization working to acquire and distribute vaccines to the world’s lowest-income nations, with a goal of vaccinating at least 20% of the population. But critics have also urged the U.S. to donate its surplus vaccine doses after the immunization of all U.S. citizens. “If we have a surplus, we’re going to share it with the rest of the world,” Biden noted in a speech on vaccine diplomacy earlier this month. China and Russia have already announced plans to offer extra doses of their homegrown vaccines to lower-income countries.

Biden has also met with leaders from Japan, India and Australia to discuss the possibility of donating one billion vaccine doses to Asian countries. The leaders recently signed an agreement that calls on the U.S. International Development Finance Corp., which supports projects in poorer countries. It will help an Indian pharmaceutical company called Biological E. produce one billion vaccine doses by the end of 2022. Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and AstraZeneca have also partnered with several Indian manufacturers over the past year to display global vaccine cooperation.

Health officials have noted that vaccine diplomacy is a powerful way to increase international goodwill and foster connections with allies and lower-income nations. By following in the footsteps of China and Russia, the United States can adopt a strategy of vaccine diplomacy that will boost its reputation abroad and curb the path of the pandemic, ensuring protection for the global public.

– Eliza Browning
Photo: Flickr

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