It's a promise: 10% of the 250 million doses of H1N1 vaccine purchased by the United States will be donated to help poor countries. But when is still unclear. At a press conference today, Thomas Frieden, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, declined to answer questions about the timing of the gift. "That has to be determined as the production schedule will become more clear in the weeks to come."
WHO expects to send some 200 million doses of vaccines donated by countries and governments to the developing world. Timing is key, because the vaccine will do the most good if it's used before a wave of infection peaks. As WHO's Marie-Paule Kieny just told ScienceInsider, the United States has promised the first part of its share of 25 million doses by early December.
But AFP suggested last week that the United States will not donate any vaccine until it has taken care of the 159 million people in its priority groups.
So far, the United States has received only 31.8 million doses of vaccine; 10 million more are currently becoming available each week. Around the country, people who wanted to get the vaccine have been sent home without getting the shots.
Frieden today avoided questions about the topic. "Until we have a better sense of where we are and where we're going," he said, "it will be difficult to say with certainty when and how much we'll be providing to other countries."
"I can tell you right now that the U.S. is not going to donate any supplies until things calm down politically," says David Fidler, a professor of international law and a global health security expert at Indiana University, Bloomington. "People are not going to be very tolerant of the government handing over vaccine to the WHO." Case in point, Fidler says: In a chat he conducted for The Washington Post last week, one reader called the charitable donation "an abuse of taxpayer money."