The United States plans to send roughly 4m doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine that it is not using to Mexico and Canada in loan deals with the two countries.
Mexico will receive 2.5m doses of the vaccine and Canada will receive 1.5m doses, the official said.
“This virus has no borders,” an administration official told Reuters. “We only put the virus behind us if we’re helping our global partners.”
The Biden administration has come under growing pressure from allies to share vaccines, particularly from AstraZeneca, which is authorized for use in other countries but not yet in the United States.
That pressure is particularly intense in neighbouring Mexico and Canada, neither of which has the infrastructure to provide enough vaccines for their populations. Both countries share deeply interconnected economies with the US, but Washington has until now not approved any vaccine exports.
AstraZeneca has millions of doses made in a US facility, and has said that it would have 30m shots ready at the beginning of April.
The Mexican foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, confirmed on Thursday that a vaccine agreement with the United States had been reached. Details are expected to be finalized in the coming days.
The news coincided with an announcement that Mexico will close its northern and southern borders to non-essential travel, prompting speculation that the two agreements were related.
Mexico has not imposed travel restrictions during the pandemic and does not demand Covid tests from travellers. But it has been beefing up enforcement to slow the stream of migrants heading to the US.
The White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said the vaccines deal with Mexico and increased immigration enforcement were “unrelated”.
News of the deal comes as a relief for both Canada and Mexico.
“God bless America – they’re coming to our rescue,” said the Ontario premier, Doug Ford, following news of the deal. “That’s what true neighbours do.”
Public health officials in Canada fear that the country – especially its most populous province of Ontario – is headed for a third wave of infections. On Wednesday, the province’s scientific advisory table called for a strict three-week lockdown to combat an explosion of cases linked to coronavirus variants.
Canada has secured a series of direct deals with pharmaceutical companies to secure its own supply, but vaccine distribution has also been held up by supply-chain issues.
Mexico’s government has boasted of having signed agreements with Russia, China and other providers to provide enough doses for its entire population, but the rollout of its vaccination programme has been dogged by delays.
“Mexico’s main problem starts with not buying vaccines on time,” said Xavier Tello, a health policy analyst in Mexico City. “Canada has vaccines but not an organized strategy. Mexico has no vaccines and no strategy.”
According to the World Health Organization, nearly 80% of the vaccines manufactured so far have been administered in only 10 countries.
Canada ranks about 22nd in the number of doses administered, with about 8% of the population getting at least one shot. That compares with 21% in the US and 25% in Chile. Mexico, meanwhile, has administered jabs to just 3.8% of its population.
Mexico has also pursued a quixotic and haphazard strategy, in which inhabitants of rural areas have been prioritized over city-dwellers – and even health workers.
“The problem from the beginning was there is no expert or head of the vaccination program in Mexico. Everything is done by different people in the cabinet, people who don’t have knowledge of vaccines,” said Roselyn Lemus-Martin, a Mexican Covid-19 researcher.
Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, had been calling on Biden to release the AstraZeneca vaccines. He raised the issue when the two presidents spoke on 2 March.
“There’s a diplomatic case of: they’re my neighbours and it’s in the US interest that Mexico and Canada are vaccinated quickly,” Lemus-Martin said.
“If Mexico is not vaccinated, people who travel to the US, they’re going to probably bring new variants and there are going to probably be a surge of cases … especially with the new variants because we don’t know what variants are in Mexico,” where there is little testing.
The “releasable” vaccines are ready to be used once they arrive. Under the deal, the United States will share doses with Mexico and Canada now with the understanding that they will pay the United States back with doses in return. The official said that would take place later this year.
This content first appear on the guardian