President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that seeks to prioritize Americans for coronavirus vaccine shipments, but the actual impact remains unclear.
According to the White House, the order directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide priority access to COVID-19 vaccines to Americans.
COVID-19 has killed more than 283,000 people in the United States this year, and nearly 15 million people in the U.S. have tested positive. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is preparing to grant final approval to two COVID-19 vaccines in the coming days, with more in final testing stages, the distributionâ€”during a pandemic and amid a transition to a new presidential administrationâ€”has been a point of concern.
The nation has experienced a significant surge in coronavirus cases recent daysâ€”hitting highs of more than 2,000 deaths daily. The U.S. currently is on track to reach more than 538,000 deaths by April 1, based on the latest expert estimate models from the University of Washington’s independent Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
“We are going to ensure access to free, safe and effective COVID vaccines to the American people,” a senior White House official who asked not to be identified told Newsweek and other reporters Monday. “Once we’ve ensured the ability to meet the needs of the American people, it would be, then, in the interests of the United States to facilitate international access to COVID vaccines.”
The White House official said the goal of the executive order, which Trump signed during a vaccine summit at the White House, is to calm fears that there will be a shortage of vaccine doses when distribution starts in the coming weeks.
The official said the administration is “absolutely confident” the nation will have a “sufficient number of doses to vaccinate all Americans who desire one before the end of the second quarter of 2021.”
“The executive order reaffirms to the American people that we’re going to put America first and work to ensure they have access to vaccines, and secondly, it helps coordinate an interagency on an unprecedented level of international, global health security here,” the official said. “It’s really important just to highlight the fact that the priority of this administration, this president, since day one, has been to put America first.”
The White House didn’t immediately provide a copy of the order to the media.
“This is a reaffirmation of the president’s commitment to America first to ensure the health and safety of our citizens, the viability of our economy, the security of our nation, and ensure that Americans are able to resume normal life,” the official said of what was planned.
The order also directs the State Department, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation and the Export-Import Bank to work with HHS on the effort.
“There is the partners, allies, and strategic countries that can afford to procure directly,” the official said. “We’ll help ensure that they have access to the private market to procure that vaccine.”