The head of the Biden administration’s Agency for International Development (USAID) said it is quite shocking and scary that China has chosen to sell vaccines to the New Crown Vaccine Access X (COVAX) for profit rather than donate or provide financial assistance (appalling).
The statement was made by Samantha Power, Administrator of the Agency for International Development, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the agency’s fiscal year 2022 budget on Wednesday morning (July 14).
Earlier this week, the Global Alliance for Vaccine Immunization (GAVI) announced that it had signed purchase agreements with China National Pharmaceutical Corporation and Kexing Corporation, respectively, meaning that vaccines produced by both companies will be included in the New Crown Vaccine Access (COVAX) vaccine pool and will be available to COVAX starting as early as this month.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at Wednesday’s hearing that he was surprised and puzzled by COVAX’s decision to “buy” Chinese vaccines when he read about it a few days ago.
“Do they (COVAX) realize the irony of this? This (outbreak) started in China, then they refused to participate in COVAX, they wouldn’t provide financial assistance, they wouldn’t provide vaccines, and then COVAX turns around and says they’re going to pay for their vaccines,” Sen. Risch said, “I mean, it’s weird, to say the least. “
Bauer said she and COVAX have had discussions about this. She was incredulous about the “purchase deal.
Bauer said, “First of all, it’s shocking that Beijing chose to profit from these vaccines rather than provide financial assistance to COVAX or donate the vaccines they have to COVAX to help people in their time of need.”
“There’s no other way to say it, it’s shocking,” Bauer said at the hearing. Bauer, who currently heads the U.S. foreign aid agency, served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Obama administration.
The inclusion of China’s Sinopharm and Kexin vaccines in COVAX comes at a time when questions about the effectiveness of Chinese vaccines are growing in various countries. Senator Risch also addressed questions about how countries view Chinese vaccines as having efficacy.
He said, “In the United States, we’ve seen real questions about even minor effects. From what we’ve learned about Chinese vaccines, they seem to be of pretty poor quality compared to the vaccines we produce.”
Bauer replied by naming a major embarrassment currently facing many countries in desperate need of vaccines to control outbreaks: accepting Chinese vaccines, or not having them at all.
“The issue now is not COVAX choosing between Sinopharm, Coxin and Moderna, if that were the case the choice would be obvious, the issue now is to choose between a Chinese vaccine and no vaccine at all,” Bauer said.
Bauer noted that countries clearly prefer U.S.-made vaccines, particularly those with mRNA technology such as Moderna and Pfizer. “Once the supply issue (of U.S. vaccines) is resolved, I think that will be an obvious choice,” Bauer said.
Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Calls for Vaccine Donations Through Bilateral Cooperation
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, applauded the administration’s proposed global vaccine donation program. He also supports COVAX’s efforts to provide vaccines to developing countries in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, although he advocates a bilateral, country-to-country approach when it comes to the U.S. sending vaccines.
“I think the United States should be more actively involved in the bilateral distribution of vaccines because of the Chinese influence throughout the Western Hemisphere and the rest of the world,” Menendez said.
He went on to say that the president of the Dominican Republic, who met with him, had expressed their strong desire to work with the U.S. and even buy U.S. vaccines, but China was supplying them with vaccines while they were unavailable.
Menendez said this is a critical time, and he is concerned that the Western Hemisphere seems to be moving in the wrong direction, both in terms of democracy and human rights. He called on the Biden administration to come to grips with the far-reaching implications of vaccine diplomacy. “There’s another side to this besides vaccination, and it will multiply our diplomacy and our interests,” Menendez said.
Global epidemic severely impacts U.S. vaccine production and supply
The Biden administration unveiled the outline of its global vaccine sharing program June 21, targeting vaccine distribution to countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa where the epidemic still continues to worsen. The White House said the majority of U.S. donated vaccines are shared through COVAX to fulfill President Biden’s promise to share 80 million U.S.-made vaccines with countries around the world.
President Biden also announced in early June that the U.S. would purchase 500 million doses of vaccines from drugmaker Pfizer and donate them to countries in need around the world, primarily through COVAX, including 200 million doses expected to be sent out this year and 300 million doses to be distributed in the first half of next year.
Bauer mentioned that the global epidemic is still rapidly deteriorating in many countries under the threat of the variant virus, and the number of confirmed cases continues to increase, even as the epidemic is repeatedly heating up in many countries. The movement of the epidemic has slowed the production of vaccines and further exacerbated the global vaccine crunch.
“As you know, the U.S. is trying to address the supply issue, but it won’t get better until August, and possibly the second half of the year, but that will only address the skinny on global demand,” Bauer said, “What we’re seeing now is a pandemic that has been getting worse, and the U.S. and Europe will try to address the supply challenges, and we will slowly see other pharmaceutical companies may also be able to obtain drug licenses at the end of this year.”
Bauer went on to emphasize that “there is no excuse for what China is doing” in a situation where there is such a complete imbalance between global vaccine supply and demand.
“We’re very aware that China is using its vaccines and people’s desperation to get something in return, and we (donate) don’t ask for anything in return, unlike China,” Bauer said.
The White House said in a written statement June 21 that the United States “will not use vaccines to extract benefits from other countries.” The statement said the goals of the U.S. vaccine donation program include increasing global vaccination coverage for the new coronavirus, preparing for a surge in cases and helping “our neighbors and other countries in need.”
The Biden administration on Friday sent three million doses of Modena vaccine to Indonesia, which has been hard hit by the outbreak. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press conference, “In addition to delivering vaccine, we are also implementing plans to increase our assistance to Indonesia’s overall COVID-19 response effort.”
The United States is currently the world’s largest donor of vaccines. About 580 million of the 1 billion doses of vaccine pledged by members of the Group of Seven, a group of wealthy nations, came from the United States.
Bauer said Wednesday that U.S. vaccines, while sent to countries through COVAX, will be sealed with a U.S. flag, not the usual COVAX international organization. “We’ll also make it clear that when our higher quality vaccines arrive in countries, we’ll let everyone know,” she said.