But this is a drop in the bucket.
The United States has purchased or contracted to purchase more than 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines. That’s enough to vaccinate the US population at least twice, leaving a lot.
Medical ethicists told CNN that the United States has a moral duty to share these doses with other countries. This is especially true, they said, now that the pandemic is relatively under control in the United States, while countries like India have been hit by the virus.
“I really believe that the United States has a duty to share vaccines with other countries,” said Keisha Ray, an assistant and bioethicist at UTHealth McGovern Medical School in Houston, “especially those countries that we might consider poorer or those. which we call underdeveloped. ”
Arthur Kaplan, director of the medical ethics department at Grossman Medical School in New York, agreed. He said the United States was “ethically obliged” to share vaccines, citing “horrific casualties and the hospital tsunami that occurs in many countries.”
“Morally,” he said, “we have to help.”
The question is when – not if
From an ethical point of view, everyone should have access to Covid-19 protection, Kathy Kinlau, associate director of the Emory University Center for Ethics, told CNN.
She said many countries do not have access to vaccines due to “reduced purchasing power for health care in general, but also for treatment and Covid-19 vaccines.”
“I think the United States is definitely in a position to share, absolutely,” she said. “It’s only a matter of time – I think that’s a real problem here.”
The United States is not simply obliged to share vaccines because of its resources, Ray said. Richer countries like the United States have historically benefited by hindering other countries, she said, whether through government relations or colonialism.
“We went to other poorer countries, took their resources and built our wealth on the back of their resources,” she said. “And we’ve left them in a position where they can’t take care of themselves now.”
“Now we are able to pay back, we are able to go there and help these countries,” she said, as if “paying off her debt.”
All three agreed that it was right for the United States to control the outbreaks of its virus before sharing vaccines. The pandemic is still a problem in the United States, Ray said, but conditions have improved significantly.
“When you look at the United States and the global spread of vaccines, you first have to ask if the United States is able to help other people? That means it will not harm its own people, in this case the Americans,” she said. “So, do we have resources to share with other countries that are really struggling with the Covid pandemic? And simply put, right now the answer is yes.”
Kaplan likened it to the rule for airplane oxygen masks, which flight attendants describe before takeoff: “Put on your own mask before helping others.”
“You have to stabilize your own nation before you can help others,” he said. “And I think we’re there. I think we’re getting there now.”
US supply outstrips demand
One of the factors in deciding to launch additional vaccines is the question of supply and demand – in particular, that the former will soon surpass the latter in the United States, Kinlau said. And that could mean it’s time to start delivering back-up doses abroad, she said.
“Once that happens,” the report said, “efforts to promote vaccination will become much more difficult, challenging the levels of herd immunity that are expected to be needed.”
The United States must continue to address vaccine fluctuations at home and respond to people’s concerns, Kinlau said. “But there may certainly be a time when there are people who will not take the vaccine and we have an additional vaccine in that country, in which case it should be used and shared.”
Data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 30% of the US population is fully vaccinated. Experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, estimate that the US needs between 70% and 85% of the country to be immunized – either by vaccination or before infection – to achieve herd immunity.
But even without reaching that crucial threshold, the United States has enough vaccines to share with other countries, experts say.
“The richest countries in the world have shut down much of the short-term supply,” wrote Dr. Krishna Udayakumar and Dr. Mark McClellan, health experts at Duke. “Vaccines are currently being administered, 92 of the world’s poorest countries will not vaccinate 60% of their population by 2023 or later.”
Ray told CNN that the main problem in the United States is not the supply problem. This is access to vaccines for poor, rural and colored communities – especially those who are black and Latin American – and a long-term fluctuation, largely among white and conservative populations.
“It’s education, public access and an access problem,” she said. “We have other barriers that are not barriers to supply. So we have supplies to help other countries.”
Global herd immunity will benefit everyone
This is not just the right thing to do.
The United States and the world will benefit, especially if they want to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus and the emergence of new variants, ethics said.
“If you don’t get these hotspots under control outside the United States, they will return, probably with new, dangerous strains that could undermine our vaccines,” Kaplan said. “It’s both sensible to do and ethical to do.”
Kinlow also stressed the importance of herd immunity not only in the United States but also worldwide.
“Epidemiologically, we need to work to suppress the virus and reduce transmission and reduce the ongoing development of the virus and its variants,” she said. “It will benefit every single person.”
But vaccinations everywhere can also bring economic benefits, Kinlau said, allowing people to travel more freely and do business around the world.
“Apart from just doing what’s fair, we can look at it in practice,” Ray said, “and we can’t have a country as big as India and as important to the world economy as India that doesn’t produce the goods we are. arrived. ” rely on them. ”
There are many issues that will also need to be addressed when the United States shares vaccines, Kaplan said, such as “Who’s first? What are you doing in the country? Is it too late and better to send drugs than a vaccine?”
He stressed the need to ensure that a country that receives doses from the United States distributes them fairly and to vulnerable people.
“One of the ethical challenges is whether we will insist on a fair distribution in these countries? Or will we just vaccinate them and leave them to the military and elites?” he said.
“It sounds nice to say we will help others, but simply because some governments are corrupt,” he said. “Some governments have no distribution plan other than giving it to their own leaders first, not to those in need.”
CNN’s Maggie Fox contributed to this report.