Millions of doses of Covid-19 AstraZeneca vaccine ‘covering up’

AmericaTens of millions of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine are missing in one manufacturing facility, waiting for the results of clinical trials.

The fate of these batches of vaccines has been the subject of heated controversy between White House officials and federal health authorities. Some argue that governments should share them with countries that really need them. Some others disagree with this idea.

“We know there are countries that have contacted the US about vaccine aid. We ask the US to consider this proposal carefully,” said Gonzalo Viña, spokesman for AstraZeneca.

About 30 million doses of the vaccine are being bottled in West Chester, Ohio, an official said. This is the final stage in production. Another company contracted with AstraZeneca, he added, also produced tens of millions of doses of vaccine to supply Baltimore, which is still in stock.

Although approved in more than 70 countries, the AstraZeneca vaccine tested in the US has yet to produce results. The trial was halted for seven weeks last fall on suspicion of the vaccine causing serious neurological side effects in volunteers. The company delays when asked to submit a product’s proof of safety. As a result, the US cannot approve the vaccine, leaving a large number of shipments produced at the warehouse abandoned.

US AstraZeneca vaccine data is expected to be released in the next few weeks. Phase three trial involved 32,000 Americans. The company will not report preliminary results like other companies have previously done but wait for a statistically significant analysis. Experts believe the vaccine is more effective than rival Johnson & Johnson.

AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine production facility in Baltimore. Image: Baltimore Sun

The AstraZeneca vaccine should not be stockpiled for too long because like other products, it has a shelf life, federal officials stressed. The vaccine can be stored at refrigerator temperature for 6 months.

AstraZeneca does not apply to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for urgent approval. The company also asked the Biden administration to share the vaccine with Europe, where the vaccination campaign is failing badly. AstraZeneca did not provide enough vaccine to the EU as originally committed. The US government has so far rejected the company’s offer.

Some federal officials push the White House to make a decision over the next few weeks. They discussed sending the vaccine to Brazil, an area hit hard by Covid-19.

“If giving aid, the US government needs to give instructions to replace those vaccines with another one,” said Viña.

The White House has not yet responded to a request for comment. The US government is also hesitant to share the vaccine because the supply to this country is uncertain. President Joe Biden once promised to provide enough adult vaccines by the end of May. Meanwhile, vaccine production is notoriously complex, sophisticated. Problems like mold can disrupt the process as well.

The US has ordered three more FDA-approved vaccines, leaving AstraZeneca’s shipment in stock. Chances are, the country will use only a little, or never, ever use these vaccines, even with emergency approval.

“If there is a surplus, we will share it with the rest of the world. First we guarantee the Americans first,” Mr. Biden said on March 10.

The European Union has also previously been fiercely criticized for “vaccine nationalism”. Tensions rose last week as Italy blocked a small shipment to Australia, ramping up the war for vaccines. However, Europe has exported 34 million doses in recent weeks to dozens of countries, even with a lack of vaccines for its members.

Feeling dull disappointment, some EU officials blamed the US. The President of the Council of Europe, Charles Michel, said the US and UK had “imposed a ban on exports of vaccines and vaccine ingredients produced in their territories”.

In response to this issue, Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, explained that firms have the right to export freely, while still implementing the terms of their contracts with the government. But because the AstraZeneca vaccine was completed under the Defense Manufacturing Act, Mr. Biden must approve overseas shipments.

AstraZeneca currently grapples with other safety concerns. Denmark, Norway and Iceland have suspended vaccines after serious cases of blood clots have been reported. European officials and the company said there was no evidence of the vaccine causing the problem.

The number of AstraZeneca vaccines being deployed is also having problems. The shortage of supply increases tensions in Europe. Germany and some other countries do not want to use the product because of concerns about low overall efficiency compared to rival Pfizer. South Africa stopped injecting the AstraZeneca vaccine last month because they were ineffective in a variant circulating in the region.

Thuc Linh (Follow NY Times)


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