U.S. and Mexican officials deny Washington is attaching any strings to a likely shipment of millions of coronavirus vaccine doses to America’s southern neighbor at a time of heightened migration passing through Mexico en route to the United States.
“[P]reventing the spread of a global pandemic is part of one of our diplomatic objectives. Another one of our diplomatic objectives is working to address the challenges at the border. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that those conversations are both ongoing and happening,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki replied when asked about a link between lending vaccine supplies and commitments from Mexico to tighten the flow of migrants heading north.
“These are two separate issues, as we look for a more humane migratory system and enhanced cooperation against COVID-19, for the benefit of our two countries and the region,” said a statement from Roberto Velasco, director general for the North America region at Mexico’s foreign ministry.
Psaki confirmed Thursday that there are discussions to send 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada.
“We are assessing how we can lend doses,” the press secretary said. “That is our aim. It’s not fully finalized yet.”
In remarks Thursday afternoon, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the 100 millionth shot of a coronavirus vaccine of his presidency will be administered Friday.
The president had previously set a goal of 100 million shots in 100 days. Friday marks the 58th day of his administration.
“Scientists have made clear that things may get worse as new variants of this virus spread,” Biden warned. “Getting vaccinated is the best thing we can do to fight back against these variants. Millions of people are vaccinated, we need millions more to be vaccinated.”
Biden, in his remarks from the White House East Room, made no mention of sending doses to other countries.
Mexican officials say an agreement among the United States, Canada and Mexico is to be announced Friday.
Tens of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford vaccine are in U.S. manufacturing sites. That company’s vaccine has been authorized in numerous countries, but not yet in the United States.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has received some negative publicity and there is speculation some Americans will hesitate to take that vaccine when it receives expected approval in the United States.
Several countries in Europe this week suspended use of the AstraZeneca doses after reports that a few people who received it later developed blot clots and severe bleeding.
Europe’s drug regulator Thursday declared the AstraZeneca vaccine safe, adding that a review of the 17 million people who received it found they were actually less likely to develop dangerous clots than others who hadn’t received the vaccine.
“It makes sense for the United States to loan its surplus of millions of doses to neighbors where it can be put to good use right away,” said Joshua Busby, associate professor of public affairs at the University of Texas-Austin.
The pending deals with Canada and Mexico, Busby told VOA, do not go far enough because “more countries in the Americas and beyond will need vaccines. But I’m confident that the Biden team is aware of this.”
Busby, author of the book “Moral Movements and Foreign Policy,” said he expects in the coming months the Biden administration will make a major effort to increase global vaccine access “because the longer the epidemic persists globally, the greater the risk of variants that could emerge for which the current vaccines are ineffective.”
Asked on Thursday about requests from other countries to make U.S. coronavirus vaccine stock available to them, Psaki replied: “Certainly we'll have those conversations, and we are open to receiving those requests and obviously making considerations.”
"Various countries including China have been engaged in so called vaccine diplomacy," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Japanese reporters on Wednesday. "We shouldn't tie the distribution or access to vaccines to politics or to geopolitics."
Concerns have been raised that the United States and the rest of the West are losing a public relations battle with China and Russia which, at minimum, are using such vaccine distribution to improve their influence and image in developing countries.
“Even as nations understandably prioritize their own citizens for vaccines, including their own most vulnerable, we cannot forget that those with the means should also help other countries in need,” said Curtis Chin, former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank.
Vaccine diplomacy competition between nations to help other countries can be a good thing, but “where it falls apart is when that competition overrides necessary cooperation and coordination,” Chin told VOA.
Chin termed it disappointing that “some in China’s government and state-controlled media might seek to tear down the vaccine development efforts of other nations’ companies and institutions as a response to a call for greater transparency and honesty in China when it comes to COVID-19.”
Nearly all countries are participating in the COVAX initiative to deliver coronavirus vaccines to poor countries.
The administration of then-President Donald Trump last year declined to join the project because of its association with the World Health Organization, which had lost the his support.
Since his inauguration in January, Biden has said the United States would join COVAX and play a more active role globally to fight COVID-19.