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Biden Says U.S. to Share 20 Million More Doses of COVID Vaccines With Other Countries

By Ernie Mundell and Robin Foster HealthDay Reporters

TUESDAY, May 18, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- President Joe Biden announced Monday that the United States will share another 20 millions doses of coronavirus vaccines with countries that are in dire need of shots.

The move comes on the heels of his promise to share 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with the world by July 4. This latest batch of 20 million doses will include Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines as well as AstraZeneca's vaccine, which has yet to be approved by federal regulators before being shipped overseas, CNN reported.

"We need to help fight the disease around the world to keep us safe here at home and to do the right thing helping other people. It's the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do, it's the strong thing to do," Biden said during a media briefing at the White House. "We want to lead the world with our values, with this demonstration of our innovation and ingenuity, and the fundamental decency of the American people."

Biden noted the United States was committing to sharing five times more than any other country has donated in COVID-19 vaccines.

"Just as in World War II, America was the arsenal of democracy in the battle against COVID-19 pandemic, our nation is going to be the arsenal of vaccines for the rest of the world," Biden said.

As more and more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19, the Biden administration has been starting to help other nations get their populations vaccinated as the pandemic worsens globally. Biden said the vaccines would be shipped by the end of June, when the United States has enough for all of its citizens, The New York Times reported.

In February, Biden said a $2 billion U.S. contribution would go toward a global coronavirus vaccine initiative, CNN reported. The funding will provide support to COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, known as COVAX.

Biden also pledged an additional $2 billion in funding contingent on contributions from other nations and dose delivery targets being met, CNN said.

A staggering 11 billion doses are needed to vaccinate 70 percent of the world's population, according to Duke University researchers, the Times reported. Only about 1.7 billion have been produced so far, the analytics firm Airfinity estimated.

"It's great to share, but redistributing 20 million existing doses has little impact on the global demand for the 10-to-15 billion doses needed," Lori Wallach, who oversees global trade work for advocacy organization Public Citizen, told the Washington Post. "Obviously, it's better to share than not, but it's like offering 20 million bites from our existing slice of pizza when… we need to be getting a bunch of new pizza production lines going as fast as possible."

In the United States, the vaccination picture is much brighter. Biden has said there will be enough vaccine supply for every American adult by the end of this month. As of Tuesday, nearly 124 million Americans were fully vaccinated and over 56 percent of adults had received at least one dose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also recently approved the Pfizer vaccine for adolescents ages 12 to 15.

Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline vaccine performs well in trial

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline announced Monday that their coronavirus vaccine candidate produced powerful responses in a preliminary trial that followed an earlier setback in the vaccine's development.

In selected data that has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, the vaccine "triggered strong immune response amongst adults of all age groups with 95% to 100% seroconversion [antibodies in blood] rates," the companies said in a statement. More details on the Phase 2 study will be published soon, they added.

Trial volunteers showed neutralizing antibodies that closely matched those found in people who had recovered from the disease, the companies noted. The drugmakers added that they plan to begin a Phase 3 trial soon and hope to win U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the vaccine before the end of 2021.

The data suggests the vaccine has "potential ... in the broader context of the pandemic, including the need to address variants and to provide for booster doses," GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Vaccines President Roger Connor said in a statement. "We believe that this vaccine candidate can make a significant contribution to the ongoing fight against COVID-19 and will move to Phase 3 [trials] as soon as possible to meet our goal of making it available before the end of the year."

The FDA has already authorized three COVID-19 vaccines, though experts say more are needed as public health officials around the world race to vaccinate their residents.

The Sanofi-GSK vaccine was an important part of the European Union's original vaccination strategy, but researchers had to go back to the drawing board after early testing produced only a weak immune response in older people, the Associated Press reported.

It now joins about a dozen vaccines in late-stage trials. Sanofi/GSK plan to produce up to 1 billion doses annually, and they have signed agreements to supply the United States, Canada and developing countries once the vaccine is approved, the AP said.

"We know multiple vaccines will be needed, especially as variants continue to emerge and the need for effective and booster vaccines which can be stored at normal temperatures increases," Thomas Triomphe, head of Sanofi's vaccines unit, said in a statement.

In the Phase 2 trial, 722 volunteers aged 18 to 95 were recruited in the United States and Honduras.

The vaccine showed even stronger antibody results in people who had already recovered from the virus. Sanofi said that makes it a potentially strong candidate as a booster shot in the future for those who have already been vaccinated with rival products.

The Phase 3 trial will involve about 37,000 participants from countries around the world, the companies said. They plan to study its efficacy against the virus variant first identified in South Africa, and potentially others as well.

Loosened mask guidance raises questions of enforcement

While millions of Americans rejoiced in the news last week that the fully vaccinated can now skip masks in most indoor and outdoor settings, some worried that it will be nearly impossible to distinguish those who have gotten their shots from those who have not.

"I think the challenge is that it's impossible to determine who is vaccinated and who is not vaccinated," said Gov. David Ige of Hawaii, where a mask mandate will stay in place for the moment, The New York Times reported.

During a media briefing on the new mask guidance, President Joe Biden made it clear that the federal government was not going to take on that role.

"We're not going to go out and arrest people," added Biden. "If you haven't been vaccinated, wear your mask for your own protection and the protection of the people who also have not been vaccinated yet."

The new guidance caught state officials by surprise and raised questions about how the guidelines would be carried out. Some states lifted mask mandates immediately, while others took a more cautious approach, the Times reported.

Despite concerns about how to enforce the new mask guidance, the move was welcomed by infectious disease experts.

"Ample evidence indicates that vaccinated people contribute little to the spread of the virus," said Luis Schang, a professor of molecular virology at Cornell University's School of Veterinary Medicine, in Ithaca, N.Y. "With the continuous increases in the number of vaccinated people – reaching now about half of the eligible population, in addition to those who have been naturally infected – the proportion of people who may be asymptomatically infected and shedding virus continues to decrease."

The nation's top infectious diseases expert agreed a turning point has been reached.

"We've got to liberalize the restrictions so people can feel like they're getting back to some normalcy," Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview, the Times reported. "Pulling back restrictions on indoor masks is an important step in the right direction."

As of Tuesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count neared 33 million, while the death toll passed 586,300, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, over 163.6 million cases had been reported by Monday, with nearly 3.4 million people dead from COVID-19.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

SOURCES: CNN; Associated Press; The New York Times; Washington Post; Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline, news release, May 17, 2021; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, May 12, 2021; American Academy of Pediatrics, news release, May 12, 2021

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