Friday, March 12, 2021

The EU Campaign To Shame Vaccines Out Of The US

 The ongoing fracas over AstraZeneca's ChAdOx1 vaccine and its sketchy trial data has not stopped its use in most countries. Indeed, as I learned today from Marginal Revolution, the New York Times writes that there's plenty of that vaccine in the US, whose manufacturing was started long ago (emboldening mine as usual):

About 30 million doses are currently bottled at AstraZeneca’s facility in West Chester, Ohio, which handles “fill-finish,” the final phase of the manufacturing process during which the vaccine is placed in vials, one official with knowledge of the stockpile said.

Emergent BioSolutions, a company in Maryland that AstraZeneca has contracted to manufacture its vaccine in the United States, has also produced enough vaccine in Baltimore for tens of millions more doses once it is filled into vials and packaged, the official said.

…But although AstraZeneca’s vaccine is already authorized in more than 70 countries, according to a company spokesman, its U.S. clinical trial has not yet reported results, and the company has not applied to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization. AstraZeneca has asked the Biden administration to let it loan American doses to the European Union, where it has fallen short of its original supply commitments and where the vaccination campaign has stumbled badly.

 Given that the US has no apparent interest in using those doses, at least in the short run, this would seem like a reasonable request. However, there's an interesting detail in the Times story that merits further comment:

The European Council president, Charles Michel, said the United States, along with Britain, “have imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory.” Asked on Thursday about the American supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters that vaccine manufacturers were free to export their products made in the United States while also fulfilling the terms of their contracts with the government.

The link in that graf points to a remarkably self-serving and frankly nonsensical press release, claiming there would be 

  1. No vaccines without Europe. This is demonstrably false, because outside of AstraZeneca, the three other approved vaccines were all (first) manufactured in the US. (Germany's BioNTech developed the Pfizer vaccine, but Pfizer manufactured it.) This is even more ridiculous when you realize that mRNA vaccines now constitute a majority of the EU's vaccine buy.
  2. Without Europe, many countries would not yet have received their first doses. On the other hand, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and France might have had their doses sooner. And in any case, "first doses" are mainly symbolic judging by overall vaccinations:

  3. Europe is the most inclusive world power. This is mainly about funding COVAX, the effort to get vaccines to the rest of the world, but this is happening mainly symbolically while the EU waits for more vaccine.
  4. Europe is an exporter. Here he expounds on what I can only believe is the purest of ignorance of his audience, raising the "outright ban" charge. Yet Our World In Data shows Pfizer and Moderna vaccines being deployed in many nations in and outside the EU, and if the recent, belated efforts at starting up mRNA manufacturing in Europe are any indication, production at scale wasn't possible there (and won't be for many months). Edit: the claim is made that "Most of the doses with which Israel embarked on its mass vaccination programme were sent from Belgium", but "most" is not "all", and this is important.
  5. Europe is set to become the leading vaccine producing continent before the end of the year. This might be true, but only because they're producing vaccines licensed from US companies — including Johnson & Johnson. 

It's the third point that causes me to raise my eyebrows: if anything, the US is exporting vaccine to Europe. What else do they want? One expects this is a bid to shame additional doses contracted and paid for under Operation Warp Speed out of the US — at a bargain price. But as the EU itself shows with this point, doses go first to member nations — and only after local demand is satisfied will the rest of the world see any.

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