White House says U.S. plans to send 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada

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White House says U.S. plans to send 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada
The United States will send Canada 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine in a loan deal, Reuters news agency is reporting. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC - image credit)
The United States will send Canada 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine in a loan deal, Reuters news agency is reporting. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC - image credit)

The United States plans to send roughly 4 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that it is not using to Canada and Mexico through loan deals with the two countries, the White House confirmed today.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that a number of countries, including Canada and Mexico, have asked the U.S. for doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but those loan deals are still being worked out.

Psaki confirmed today that the U.S. has "seven million releasable doses" of the AstraZeneca vaccine "available."

"2.5 million of those, we are working to finalize plans to lend those to Mexico, and 1.5 million to Canada," she said.

"It's not fully finalized yet. It's our aim and what we're working toward, to Canada and Mexico. It's a complex process and our team is working with the companies to move it forward."

Watch: U.S. offers 1.5M Covid-19 vaccines to Canada:

Procurement Minister Anita Anand told CBC News Network's Power & Politics Thursday that the federal government is in talks with the U.S. now to finalize the agreement.

"In terms of the arrangement, what we are contemplating is that we will receive these 1.5 million doses now and that when we receive our 20 million doses of AstraZeneca in Q2 and Q3, we will then provide 1.5 million back to the United States in a sort of swap transaction," she told host Vassy Kapelos.

Anand said the federal government is expecting to receive the doses "likely before the end of the month" but must first work out some of the logistical issues involved in bringing them here.

Canada has contracts for 20 million doses of the vaccine from AstraZeneca and another two million of the same vaccine from the Serum Institute of India.

Biden under pressure to share surplus doses

"This virus has no borders," a U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity earlier in the day. "We only put the virus behind us if we're helping our global partners."

The "releasable" vaccines are ready to be used once they arrive, Reuters reported. Under the deal, the United States will share doses with Mexico and Canada now — with the understanding that they will send the United States doses in return. The official said that would take place later this year.

The Biden administration has come under pressure from allies worldwide to share vaccine doses — particularly the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is authorized for use in other countries but not yet cleared for use in the United States.

AstraZeneca has millions of doses made in a U.S. facility and has said that it would have 30 million shots ready at the beginning of April.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki takes a question from a reporter during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Washington.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki takes a question from a reporter during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Washington.(Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

The deal does not affect President Joe Biden's plan to have vaccine doses available for all adults in the United States by the end of May, an official told Reuters. The deal is likely to be announced publicly in the coming days.

Two officials said the vaccine would be delivered in "short order" once the deal was completed, but they declined to give a more specific timetable.

The Associated Press also quoted an unnamed official saying that a loan deal for 2.5 million doses to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada is in the works.

U.K./ EU clear AstraZeneca

News of the loan deal comes as the United Kingdom's drug regulator reports that a "rigorous scientific review" has ruled out the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as the cause of blood clots in veins. The regulator is doing a more detailed study looking at blood clots in the brain.

The U.K. Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any risks.

The European Medicines Agency also cleared the AstraZeneca vaccine today following an investigation into 30 cases of unusual blood disorders. The agency determined that the vaccine's benefits in protecting people from coronavirus-related death or hospitalization outweighs the possible risks, though a link between blood clots in the brain and the vaccine could not be ruled out.

The agency's review covered 20 million people given the AstraZeneca shot in the U.K. and the European Economic Area (EEA), which links 30 European countries.

Safety concerns led at least 13 European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, to stop administering the shot, slowing an already faltering inoculation campaign in the EU, which lags Britain and the United States.

Marc-André Gagnon, a pharmaceutical policy expert at Carleton University, said the U.S. is likely sharing the vaccine now because of the worrying prospect of coveted doses languishing in a U.S. warehouse and going to waste.

Steve Morgan, a pharmaceutical expert at the University of British Columbia, also told CBC News that the Biden administration is motivated to share its stockpile of AstraZeneca because the doses are likely to expire soon.

"Frankly, the Biden administration would far rather loan these vaccines to neighbours than wear the potential disaster of having millions of vaccines expire in the U.S.," he said.

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