State and local governments, along with charitable groups, have sought to donate soon-to-be-expired doses of COVID-19 vaccines to needy communities in Mexico but have been forbidden from doing so by the White House Vaccine Task Force, leading them to be thrown away instead.
In addition to preventing vaccines from being donated to Mexico, the Biden administration has also barred doses nearing their expiration dates from being given away to other countries including India, the Washington Post reported Friday.
According to administration officials, the refusals stem from the fact that the vaccines are the property of the United States and they don’t belong to the states, cities, and communities where they were initially distributed. As such, the federal government must handle donation efforts; the Post said that the administration does run its own vaccine donation program and that most commonly, it runs through the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department.
Still, the administration’s decision to allow what is likely to be tens of millions of dollars worth of vaccines to expire rather than let them be donated and used was perplexing to many, the Post added.
And while the White House has permitted some 200 million doses of the vaccines to be distributed around the world, the administration has nevertheless denied multiple requests from state and local governments to donate their unused vaccines before they expire.
Those refusals have been especially troubling for health care workers along the U.S.-Mexico border, who have witnessed the high demand for vaccines across the board up close and personal, as well as how simple it could be to drive them to the country’s next-door neighbor.
“It seemed like a win-win and something consistent with the Biden administration’s goals,” Adolph Edwards, CEO of El Centro Regional Medical Center in California, told the Post. “On the Mexican side, they were begging us for help. It’s infuriating that we had to say no when it would have been so easy to make a difference.”
The issue stems from several months ago when U.S. health officials in Southern California identified some 10,000 vaccine doses that were close to expiring. They worked with counterparts in Mexico, the latter of whom arranged to receive and then transport the doses back into their country. A vaccination site — a shopping mall in Mexicali, near the border — was also set up.
But then, word came from the Biden administration that the exchange could not take place.
“I contacted the White House Vaccine Task Force and was told it was not possible,” Eric McDonald, chief medical officer for San Diego County, told the paper.
A White House official told the Post that there are significant legal and liability issues at stake.
“Given chain-of-custody considerations, moving doses out from more than 80,000 providers would involve significant legal and logistical challenges,” one official not authorized to speak about the issue publicly said.
“We have examined those, and continue to work with states, CDC, FDA, and CAG as we explore all options, but that process is being led at the federal level and states have been advised they should not be sending any doses internationally, due to these complex factors,” the official added.
Still, the decision not to find some way around the hurdles and allow expiring vaccines to be donated and used baffled many.
“The contrast was huge,” Carlos González Gutiérrez, the Mexican consul in San Diego, told the Post. “My 23-year-old daughter was able to get fully vaccinated in California, while in Mexico family and friends over 65 were still not able to get their first dose.
“The responsibility of vaccinating people lies with the Mexican government and I think we’ve done a good job of it,” he added. “But we won’t reach our full potential unless we continue to receive support from our friends in California.”
“It’s hard to believe that it’s ever better to let doses expire and throw them away rather than put them to use,” added Jess Mandel, the chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine, according to the paper.
“Not only do we have a moral imperative to help our neighbors, but the better we can ensure that COVID is controlled a few miles away on the Mexican side of the border, the more it will protect the health of people here in San Diego.”
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