Opinion | Let Our Doses Go!
To make this inequality worse, new variants are further threatening these countries, with unwelcome news recently that the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in Britain, may be more lethal in addition to being more transmissible, and is now spreading around the world. Lab and real-world evidence suggest that vaccines provide substantial protection against B.1.1.7, but that is cold comfort to those who lack them.Updated March 17, 2021, 8:59 p.m. ETWorse, higher transmissibility, which makes it harder to hold the line with masking and distancing, renders distributing vaccines as soon as possible even more crucial. When facing an exponential threat like a more transmissible variant, a vaccine in arms today is much more valuable than one in a few months.Besides providing AstraZeneca vaccine doses, we should immediately consider transferring even more doses of the other vaccines, too. The United States overbooked vaccines early because we didn’t know which ones would work and how many would be delivered. Now we do, so it’s time to adjust. We already have 100 million doses ordered from the American company Novavax; its British trial has just concluded, and it is expected to apply for emergency authorization in the United States soon. We won’t need most of those either, not this round.Another advantage we have is that the United States makes its vaccines here, and the Biden administration has, wisely, looked to increase manufacturing capacity and thus supply. The White House brokered a deal recently between Merck and Johnson & Johnson to use Merck plants in the United States to produce more of the latter’s vaccine, and reportedly put in hundreds of millions of public dollars to upgrade Merck’s facilities as needed.That’s great, and puts our supply even further beyond our needs. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is easily stored and requires only a single dose, making it a valuable tool in hard-to-reach areas around the world. We should let some of those doses go as well.One argument for holding on to all the vaccines here seems to be a version of “better safe than sorry,” that it’s preferable to have an excess rather than a shortage. This isn’t right or moral when so many countries can’t even vaccinate their health care workers, and besides, our excess is practically guaranteed at this point. It’s true that we may need to manufacture and distribute boosters that are even more effective against the variants, perhaps as early as this year, but that’s for the future, and our supply of old variant AstraZeneca won’t help us there.Another concern that comes up is that we may need some of those vaccines for children. But the earliest timeline for that is this fall for those 12 to 16 and next year for younger kids, as their trial has just begun. Hoarding vaccines for potential uses beyond our need in the next six months isn’t defensible, especially since we should keep increasing capacity to make more.