Conyers to Sebelius: Don't Give Away U.S. H1N1 Vaccine Supply to Foreign Countries Until U.S. Need is Met

October 30, 2009 - 10:45 AM
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) said the Obama administration should not donate any of the nation's H1N1 vaccine supply to foreign countries before there is enough vaccine to cover those Americans most at risk of swine flu.
(CNSNews.com) – House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) said the Obama administration should not donate any of the nation’s H1N1 vaccine supply to foreign countries--as it originally planned to do--before there is enough vaccine to cover those Americans most at-risk from H1N1 flu.

Conyers was asked by CNSNews.com outside the Capitol on Thursday whether the Obama administration should go ahead with its plans to donate some of the U.S. vaccine supply to foreign countries before the U.S. had enough vaccine to cover the 150 million Americans who are most at risk from the H1N1 virus. Conyers said, “The answer is no, and I don’t think that they would do it."

When it was pointed out to Conyers that Sebelius had been noncommittal on Wednesday as to when the administration would proceed with the donation of vaccine, Conyers said: “Well, that means that I must contact her right away to encourage her to realize that we must take every reasonable precaution--we don’t have to become semi-hysterical--but I could never sanction us giving a supply of this vaccine, which is still behind schedule contrary to all of our best-laid plans. We don’t have enough of it and we’re not likely to have enough by then. And, so, the answer is 'no' and I would say to our distinguished secretary the same thing."
 

 

 
Sebelius has said that the administration is committed to donating 10 percent of the nation’s 250 million-dose vaccine order to the World Health Organization to distribute to foreign countries, and has been non-committal as to whether the government would cover the estimated 150 million at-risk Americans first.
 
The Obama administration originally planned to donate 10 percent of its 250 million-dose vaccine supply to the World Health Organization, once it had received 40 million doses.
 
In Oct. 21 testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Sebelius briefly addressed the committment Obama had made to give away some of the U.S. vaccine supply.

"Well, I think the balance is difficult," said Sebelius. "The president clearly has made it clear that his priority is safety and security of the American people, and immediately he also adds that we're a global partner. So we have joined now with 11 nations in terms of 10 percent of the vaccine will be made available to developing countries."

After her testimony, CNSNews.com asked Sebelius if Americans should be prioritized over foreigners in getting vaccine supplies that had been paid for by U.S. tax dollars.

“Well, I think that we are trying to do both things simultaneously--participating is part of our partnership with 11 other countries in terms of donating to developing countries.” she said.

“There’s an agreement (on) 10 percent donation that 11 nations have made, at the same time trying to get the vaccine out to Americans," she said. "What we said is once we have 40 million doses, the donation can start.”

Referring to the production delay for the vaccine, Sebelius told CNSNews.com: “We had hoped that that would be a little earlier, but we are working with these 11 nations through the World Health Organization (WHO) to help get the vaccines to countries particularly who can't purchase them. I mean, that’s really the issue is the countries who don’t have the wherewithal to purchase vaccines. We need to make available some of the vaccine that is available to the developed nations.”

CNSNews.com then asked whether the donation would happen once the delay in production was over and all of the U.S. demand had been met, Sebelius said that was not the case. 

“Well, no," she said. "Forty million doses was the initial benchmark and so once that is in this country, then 10 percent of the (doses are donated), and we’ll make up the rest. That’s what the other nations are doing too--England, New Zealand, and Australia and Germany and Spain are all participating in this kind of global effort.”

CNSNews.com reported on Oct. 28 that a White House official said that Sebelius had committed a "slight miscommunication" when she said the U.S. would begin donating 10 percent of its H1N1 vaccine supply when 40 million doses were in hand. “The first priority is to ensure domestic requirements are met,” this White House official told CNSNews.com.

Yet, also on Oct. 28, Sebelius said that the administration knew from the outset it would not have enough vaccine to immunize all 150 million Americans considered in high risk groups, while at the same time noting that the U.S. still had a commitment to give away some of its vaccine supply.

“We knew from the outset--everybody knew from the outset--we would not have enough to immunize the 150 million Americans who fit into those five priority groups,” Sebelius said during a Wednesday press conference at HHS headquarters in Washington, D.C.  The five priority groups include  pregnant women, persons who live with or provide care for infants younger than 6 months (e.g., parents, siblings, and daycare providers), health care and emergency medical services personnel, persons aged 6 months to 24 years, and persons aged 25 to 64 years who have medical conditions that put them at higher risk for influenza-related complications.

When asked by CNSNews.com if, despite this shortage, the U.S. was still committed to giving away 10 percent of its vaccine, Sebelius said: “Well, there is an 11-country partnership, which has made a commitment to make vaccines available to developing nations. It has always been the president’s intention that the safety and security of the American people be a priority in the production and distribution.

“So as vaccine becomes more available, I think evaluation will be made about when it’s appropriate for that donation to begin,” she said. “But I can tell you at this point the priority is getting the vaccines to citizens in this country, and that’s what we’re working on 24-7.”