In mid-June, state officials in Michigan warned of over half a million doses of Covid-19 vaccines that were set to expire between then and early August. Around the same time, an Ohio governor warned of 200,000 vaccines due to expire on 23 June. This problem likely faces every state, with over ten million doses of J&J delivered but not administered across the country. An extension to J&J’s shelf-life by the USA’s FDA only provides temporary respite.
At a time when fewer than 1% of people in low income countries have received at least one dose, these figures in themselves provide a sharp indictment of vaccine nationalism. And of more.
That states have more vaccines than they can manage to roll out shows not only a greedy hoarding. Nor just the toxic influence of irrationalist vaccine-scepticism. It also underscores the downsides to a disintegrated, disorganised, and privatised healthcare system in the USA’s vaccine roll out.
Contrast Wales’ jab successes. The Welsh first minister cited their success relative to the rest of the UK to the small “supply buffer”, and the more centralised NHS. Vaccines aren’t an ideal cargo, they need a willing but not yet fully vaccinated human’s arm, providing some barriers to aspirations of a just-in-time supply chain. Nonetheless, the aspiration is worthy — Covid vaccines should go into people, not sit in fridges — but requires co-ordination and integration.
Vaccine nationalism itself also cuts against smooth distribution, stoking fears that supplies may be less reliable than promised, so encouraging inflated supply buffers.
The total vaccines available globally are not a fixed quantity: Big Pharma and their intellectual property should be requisitioned to ramp up production. But vaccines should be distributed where they are needed, not stockpiled and left to perish.