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Covid-19 vaccine doses are sitting on shelves across the US as other countries struggle

Used vaccine vials

Used vials of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, in a box. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

  • In some parts of the USA, excess Covid-19 vaccines are sitting on shelves.
  • Countries like India, however, are struggling to get enough supplies to vaccinate their populations.
  • Others, like South Africa, are finding acquisition slow.
  • Global leaders are calling on the US to lift export bans to help with vaccine production abroad.
  • See more stories on Business Insider SA’s home page.

As many countries across the world – including South Africa – struggle to acquire enough Covid-19 vaccines for their populations fast enough, doses in some parts of the US are sitting on shelves.

Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami said it would wind down vaccinations because of shrinking demand and excess vaccines. Doses also sat on shelves in North Carolina this month as vaccine efforts were paused due to spring break, The Washington Post reported.

India however, set a new global record of more than 330,000 new infections on Friday. As cases surge, the country is struggling to vaccinate its own population.

The country, which is the world’s largest vaccine producer and gifted and sold tens of millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses to other countries as part of COVAX, the World Health Organisation’s global vaccine-sharing initiative has since paused its efforts in order to redirect production and vaccinate its own citizens.

India promised to send out 200 million doses for up to 92 countries but the pause could stall those efforts.

Other countries, including South Africa, are finding delivery of promised vaccines frustratingly slow.

The disparity between the abundance in countries like the US and scarcity in others has promoted calls from global and national leaders to help bridge the vaccine access gap between rich and poor countries.

Some countries are calling on the US to change its policies and rethink intellectual property and trademark laws that dictate vaccine manufacturing, the Post reported.

“It’s outrageous ethically, morally, scientifically,” Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist with the World Health Organisation, told the Post about global vaccine inequities.

The New York Times reported that American President Joe Biden’s administration is under international pressure to lift restrictions on the export of supplies that vaccine makers in India say are needed to expand production.

The current ban on exports falls under the Defense Production Act, which was invoked by former US President Donald Trump and used by Biden to increase vaccine production in the US, the Times reported.

“What I will say broadly is that the United States first and foremost is engaged in an ambitious and effective and, so far, successful effort to vaccinate the American people. That campaign is well underway, and we’re doing that for a couple of reasons,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said about the ban in a press conference this week.

“Number one, we have a special responsibility to the American people. Number two, the American people, this country has been hit harder than any other country around the world – more than 550,000 deaths, tens of millions of infections in this country alone,” he said.

Price said if the American public isn’t vaccinated they run the risk of allowing for more mutations that could spread across the globe. However, India has also experienced a mutated variant, which in March was linked to between 15% and 20% of cases in the state of Maharashtra.

The variant, as well as several others found in the region, know no borders and as cases spread in India and deaths mount, it will become a global threat if left unchecked.

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