As the New York Times reports, Trump had the chance to receive millions more doses of Pfizer’s mRNA-based vaccine. Getting these doses for the nation didn’t require long-term wagering at the start of the pandemic. This opportunity came in early November when good results from phase 2 studies had already been analyzed and the phase 3 results were only a few days away.
Trump didn’t pull the trigger. Other nations did. As a result, the United States will have access to enough vaccines for about 50 million people over the next eight months and will have to wait for summer 2021 before more are available. That number could have doubled if the US had committed to expanding its purchase when given the opportunity.
But just because the horse has finally left the stable doesn’t mean Trump isn’t about to slam a big door. On Tuesday, Trump is expected to issue an executive order that “proclaims that other nations will not receive US supplies of their vaccine until Americans have been vaccinated.” Apart from the fact that this order seems to be worth even less than Trump’s usual scribbled papers by Sharpie.
The sale of the vaccine to other nations has been completed. As the BBC notes, the first shot of the vaccine, outside of a trial, was on Tuesday morning, with a 91-year-old British woman receiving the first dose. And 800,000 cans are already on their way to the UK – and that’s just one of several international orders. The European Union announced on November 11th an agreement for 200 million doses, twice as many as will be available for the US in the coming months. Other nations have negotiated additional deals.
There are other vaccines. US-based Moderna is just a few weeks behind Pfizer with its vaccine, which is based on a similar technology and achieved a staggering 94.5% efficacy in phase 3 trials. Enough of their vaccine has been ordered to cover another 50 million Americans.
The big bet Trump and Operation Warp Speed made was the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, which should have been available to 100 million Americans. However, phase 3 studies of this vaccine showed that it may be significantly less effective than Moderna or Pfizer at protecting against the virus. More importantly, a manufacturing and distribution error in AstraZeneca’s Phase 3 study makes it difficult to interpret the actual effectiveness of the vaccine and is likely to delay FDA approval.
More vaccine doses are expected to be available from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, both of which are still in phase 3 trials. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires a single dose. However, they are not expected to release the Phase 3 results until sometime in January or February.
Failure to receive additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine despite promising results in Phase 1 and Phase 2 means Americans are waiting longer and have fewer options to get a vaccine. No matter what Trump writes about his executive order. That is, unless Trump really intends to order troops to snatch boxes of vaccines from the hands of doctors intended to deliver them to nations that have already placed an order and negotiated payment. That would only be an act of war.