The United States will release 60 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from drugmaker AstraZeneca to other countries over the next several months, the White House announced Monday.
The vaccine, which has not been authorized for use in the U.S., will be released once it clears safety reviews by the Food and Drug Administration. That could happen in the "coming weeks," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing.
The White House did not specify which countries would receive the vaccine, but about 10 million doses are ready to ship once regulatory clearance has been granted, Psaki said. The remaining doses are expected to be distributed throughout May and June.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has been widely used across Europe and elsewhere around the world. But the company has not yet applied for emergency authorization in the U.S. The vaccine is reported to be effective at preventing transmission and hospitalization, but the company has faced questions from U.S. regulators about data from its trials.
In the absence of FDA authorization, the U.S. government has been sitting on a stockpile of millions of doses, with more on order.
"We do not need to use AstraZeneca in our fight against COVID in the next few months," Psaki said at Monday's briefing.
The White House has expressed confidence that the supply of the vaccine doses made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson will be sufficient for the ongoing vaccination campaign in the United States. More than half of American adults have received at least one shot of the vaccine.
Monday's announcement comes as the Biden administration has been under increased pressure to assist other countries in the fight against the virus, especially India, which has in recent weeks rapidly become the world's worst COVID-19 hot spot.
"The U.S. has a tremendous number of resources at its disposal, and so if the U.S. government really gets involved and decides it's going to help an ally and a fellow democracy, I think it can make a big difference," Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University's School of Public Health, said in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition.
The White House announced Sunday it would work to send India therapeutics, testing supplies and equipment to help generate and transport more oxygen. The White House also said Sunday it would divert some orders of vaccine materials made by U.S. companies to India so that more vaccine doses can be manufactured there.
On Monday, President Biden reiterated those pledges in a call with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Asked about criticisms that the White House has taken too long to send aid to India, Psaki defended the administration's timing.
"The United States has been one of the largest providers of assistance to address the COVID pandemic around the world, including to India," she said. "I will also say that we are continuing to fight a pandemic here."
Public health experts welcomed the news about the Biden administration's decision to share the AstraZeneca vaccine. Many of them had been calling on the administration to release the doses.
"There's only one path out of this pandemic that we are in, and that is getting the world vaccinated," Jha said. "If we don't, we're going to be dealing with this for many, many years. So this has got to be priority No. 1."