Where should U.S. vaccine production go next? Canada and Mexico, says one lawmaker

·3 min read
A U.S. lawmaker has said vaccinating Canadians and Mexicans against COVID-19 needs to be a future priority. In this photo, U.S. President Joe Biden tours a Pfizer manufacturing plant producing the vaccine in Kalamazoo, Mich., last month.  (Tom Brenner
/Reuters - image credit)
A U.S. lawmaker has said vaccinating Canadians and Mexicans against COVID-19 needs to be a future priority. In this photo, U.S. President Joe Biden tours a Pfizer manufacturing plant producing the vaccine in Kalamazoo, Mich., last month. (Tom Brenner /Reuters - image credit)

This story is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians.

What's new

News Tuesday that the United States is racing ahead to mass-vaccination against COVID-19 months faster than expected is a big deal not only for Americans but could also have implications for Canada, which has so far been prevented from importing U.S.-made vaccines.

U.S. President Joe Biden tweeted Tuesday that the U.S. should have enough vaccines for all Americans by the end of May, two months sooner than the previously announced target.

So, where will massive American production volumes shift next?

One U.S. lawmaker's suggestion: Canada and Mexico.

Vicente Gonzalez, a member of the House of Representatives, says the U.S. must make it a priority to ship vaccines across the border to its neighbours once Americans are inoculated.

The Texas Democrat says he's looking forward to when the U.S. can ease up on an export ban that has prevented foreign shipments of doses produced in the country.

Biden's administration, like the Trump administration before it, has blocked exports and rebuffed requests from Canada and Mexico for supplies.

"The borders are closed in my district," the Democratic lawmaker, whose district sits along part of the U.S.-Mexico border, told CNN Monday.

"Mexican nationals with visas who normally travel here or own second homes [or] come and do business here are not allowed across the border right now.

"So, we definitely need to immunize our friends across the border at some point, once we're finished doing it here in our country."

Gonzalez said the U.S. will only truly recover from the pandemic when its neighbours are safe, too.

Vicente Gonzalez, seen here at an August 2020 press conference, serves a Texas-Mexico border community in the House of Representatives, and says the U.S. should lift its ban on the export of COVID-19 vaccines.
Vicente Gonzalez, seen here at an August 2020 press conference, serves a Texas-Mexico border community in the House of Representatives, and says the U.S. should lift its ban on the export of COVID-19 vaccines. (Joel Martinez/The Monitor via AP)

"I think we have five vaccines for every American, so we certainly have some extra vaccines that we could share with other countries — especially somebody like Mexico or Canada, who we do a lot of business with … where a lot of commerce and tourism flow on a regular basis," Gonzalez said in the interview.

"So we don't live in this world, isolated. It's a global community, and certainly, North America is a very tight-knit community. We have relatives on both sides of the border, we do business on both sides of the border, whether it's Canada or Mexico."

What's next

Gonzalez's comments point to a question that will only intensify over the coming months about what happens to the big production capacity within the United States once export bans are lifted on plants such as Pfizer's in Michigan and Moderna's in New England.

The United States has vaccinated residents at quadruple the rate of Canada. Biden has said in the past that there should be enough vaccines for all Americans by the end of July before revising that to late May on Tuesday.

That puts the U.S. schedule several months ahead of Canada's.

Biden says vaccines arriving faster than expected: