(Reuters) – The White House is holding onto some doses of AstraZeneca Plc’s COVID-19 vaccine so they can be given to Americans quickly if authorized by the U.S. health regulator, a top administration official said Friday.
AstraZeneca has produced doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, where it has yet to be approved. The vaccine developed with Oxford University has been authorized for use in the European Union and many other countries.
Reuters reported this week that U.S. officials told the EU not to expect shipments of the shot from the United States anytime soon.
“We have a small inventory of AstraZeneca so, if approved, we can get that inventory out to the American people,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said in a Friday press call.
The New York Times reported this week that tens of millions of doses have already been produced in the United States and are sitting in production facilities unused.
AstraZeneca said in February it expects its vaccine could receive U.S. emergency use authorization at the beginning of April and could immediately deliver 30 million doses to locations around the United States.
The U.S. stance could jeopardize AstraZeneca’s attempts to come closer to delivering on its contractual obligation with the EU of 180 million doses in the second quarter.
AstraZeneca told the EU earlier this year it would cut its supplies in the second quarter by at least half to less than 90 million doses, EU sources told Reuters, after a bigger reduction in the first three months of the year.
U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday the government will first give Americans COVID-19 vaccines, but any surplus would be shared with the world.
“We…want to make sure we have maximal flexibility, that we are oversupplied and over-prepared and that we have the ability to provide vaccines, whatever the most effective ones are, to the American public,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday.
“A number of countries… have requested doses from the United States and we have not provided doses from the U.S. government to anyone,” she added.
The United States has been one of the world leaders in vaccine administration. It has distributed more than 130 million shots and administered nearly 100 million, according to federal data last updated on Thursday.
White House officials said on Friday that 65% of Americans over 65 years old have been given shots.
(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell in New York and Jeff Mason in Washington; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington; Editing by; Bill Berkrot and Kirsten Donovan)