SIM Report: US accelerates coronavirus vaccine exports, prioritises neighbours

SIM Report: North America, Issue 12

Coronavirus vaccines produced in the US have begun being shipped overseas as domestic supply outstrips demand, media sources reported in May. US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has begun exporting doses made in its Michigan factory to Canada and Mexico, alongside close to 10 other Latin American countries including Brazil, Costa Rica, and Uruguay. Fellow US pharmaceutical company Moderna has also started exporting some US-made doses, according to company spokesman Ray Jordan, although no details were provided on their destinations. Moreover, President Joe Biden announced on 17 May that the US government will export an extra 20 million doses of federal vaccine supplies, bringing the total number of doses exported by the US government to 80 million by the end of June. US government exports will comprise of 60 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not yet been approved for use in the US, and 20 million doses from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.

The vaccine exports come after the lifting of US curbs on manufacturers shipping doses overseas. Under a deal agreed between Pfizer and the Trump administration in 2020, the pharmaceutical company was barred from exporting US-made vaccines until after 31 March 2021. Moreover, despite no formal federal export ban, the US government also used wartime powers to prioritise its vaccine orders, effectively monopolising domestic vaccine supply in late 2020 and early 2021. The US’s rapid vaccine rollout, which has seen almost 40 per cent of the population fully immunised as of 24 May, has coincided with significant falls in caseloads and fatalities, and increasingly switched US policymakers’ focus to epidemiological trends overseas. In April, coronavirus rates in Canada overtook those in the US for the first time since the pandemic began, while beyond the US’s southern border, Mexico continues to record hundreds of coronavirus-linked fatalities each day.

The US’s move to begin exporting vaccines is likely to have a significant positive impact on the pace of immunisation campaigns globally. Initially, US vaccine exports are likely to be targeted at global virus hotspots, such as India and Brazil, as well as towards the US’s most immediate neighbours, particularly Canada and Mexico. Sending US-made vaccines to neighbouring countries simplifies the export process, particularly as vaccines must be stored at low temperatures during transportation, while also advances US interests by protecting populations at close proximity to their own. The US strategy is also likely to prioritise countries with large US diasporas or visitor numbers, such as Costa Rica, or those with large diasporas of their own in the US, including Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. The countries least likely to benefit from US vaccine exports include Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba, all of which have tense diplomatic ties with the US and have mostly opted for Russian- and Chinese-made vaccines. The US is subsequently likely to expand its vaccine exports to other world regions, amid competition with rival powers China and Russia to provide vaccines to countries which lack their own manufacturing capabilities.

The US’s vaccine exports will speed up global efforts to contain the pandemic and facilitate the resumption of many economic and social activities. US interests and capacity mean that vaccines are likely to be initially focused on Canada, Mexico, as well as the rest of the western hemisphere. Organisations with interests in the Americas should monitor updates on US vaccine exports and assess how improved vaccine supply is likely to impact operations and planned investments.

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