Piers Morgan: Why won’t US approve Oxford AstraZeneca Covid vaccine?

Let’s be blunt: America’s had an absolutely terrible pandemic.

The world’s No1 superpower yesterday passed the devastating coronavirus-related death toll of 500,000 people.

That’s 20 percent of all global deaths, in a country that has 4.25 percent of the world’s population.

It also means the US has now suffered more COVID victims than the total number of Americans who died on the battlefields of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.

These are all horrific mind-numbing statistics, and I’m in no doubt where much of the blame of this should go: Donald Trump.

The recently ousted president handled this crisis catastrophically badly – refusing to take it seriously from the start when it erupted last February, ignoring the science, publicly shaming his top medical experts, and spray-gunning dangerous unproven ‘cure’ theories.

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As Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, told CNN: ‘You are trying to signal the country to really buckle down and address the kinds of mitigation strategies we put forth, and signals come saying ‘this isn’t so bad, we’re in pretty good shape…’ That was not helpful.’

This is the understatement of the millennium.

It was a masterclass in how not to handle a pandemic, and shame on Trump.

But he’s gone now, and the new man in charge is President Joe Biden, the man who repeatedly vowed throughout his presidential campaign that his top priority would be to fix America’s COVID mess.

President Biden was right to pause for a moment to acknowledge the terrible and tragic 500,000 death toll milestone from COVID-19 in America.

With his usual exceptional empathy born from personal loss, Biden said: ‘It’s not Democrats and Republicans who are dying from the virus. It’s our fellow Americans. It’s our neighbours, our friends, our mothers our fathers our sons our daughters, husbands, wives, we have to fight this together as one people as the United States of America.’

President Joe Biden is pictured Monday paying tribute to the 500,000 Americans who have died from COVID

And he was right to offer Americans hope for the future when he said: ‘Let this not be a story of how far we fell, but how far we climb back up. Remember so we can heal. To find purpose in the work ahead. To show that there is light in the darkness. This nation will smile again. This nation will know sunny days again. This nation will know joy again. And as we do, we’ll remember each person we’ve lost. The lives they lived.’

Biden’s natural ability to be the nation’s Comforter-in-Chief is both very real and very impressive.

But he’s also the nation’s Commander-in-Chief and America’s still at war with this lethal virus. It’s a war that may yet define his own presidency.

The encouraging news is that deaths, hospitalizations and cases in the US are all falling fast, and Spring is coming with its better weather which should help continue that trend.

Lillie McCray (R) receives the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from Walgreens healthcare professional Ghassan Ayyad (L) at the Victor Walchirk Apartments in Evanston, Illinois on Monday

Lillie McCray (R) receives the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from Walgreens healthcare professional Ghassan Ayyad (L) at the Victor Walchirk Apartments in Evanston, Illinois on Monday

But as Dr Fauci warns: ‘We’ve got to be really careful and not just say ‘we’re finished now, we’re through it.’ We have variants out there that could actually set us back.’

The best way to stop the virus mutating is to dramatically slow the rate of infection, and one of the best ways to do that is with the vaccines which have been shown to massively reduce transmission as well as stop death and serious disease.

So, America, like every other country in this pandemic, is in a race that it must win.

Put simply: the faster it vaccinates its people, the better the chances of being able to regain control over the virus, fully re-open the battered US economy and put the booster rockets on to rebound from this devastating past year.

On the face of it, America’s doing well with its vaccine rollout.

The CDC says 75.2 million doses have so far been distributed in the U.S. and 64.1 million administered – the highest numbers of any country in the world.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden participate in a moment of silence during a ceremony at the White House Monday to honor the 500,000 Americans that have died from COVID-19

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden participate in a moment of silence during a ceremony at the White House Monday to honor the 500,000 Americans that have died from COVID-19

But if you get into the more detailed comparative weeds, a less impressive picture emerges.

The US has administered 19 doses of COVID-19 vaccine per 100 people in the country which is significantly behind the current UK rate (27), the United Arab Emirates (56) and Israel which is way out in the lead with a staggeringly good 87.

So, the big question for Biden is not how well it’s doing but why a manufacturing technological superpower like America is lagging so far behind these other nations, especially given that the two vaccines it has so far approved are made entirely (Moderna) or partially (Pfizer) inside the US?

The answer lies with a British vaccine.

On February 15, the World Health Organisation gave an Emergency Use Listing to the AstraZeneca vaccine developed in Oxford, England and declared it safe to use.

It had already been approved in the UK on December 30 last year, and in the European Union last month.

But there is still no approval for it to be used in the US, and no sign of being approved any time soon, which defies any rational logic.

It’s true there was a botched early clinical trial which raised some initial concerns but those were soon allayed by further results.

And it’s also true it may be slightly less effective against some of the new variants of COVID currently circulating including the one from South Africa.

But one crucial thing is in no doubt: like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it is incredibly effective against preventing severe disease or death.

Nobody who’s had the AstraZeneca vaccine has so far died from COVID.

And it is far easier to store than the other two because it doesn’t need to be kept in the very cold conditions they need.

So, the US should be chomping at the bit to add the AstraZeneca jab to its vaccine armoury, but it’s still working its way through totally unnecessary further FDA-led trials.

The UK has proven this is a safe, easy-to-use vaccine, far cheaper to produce than its rivals, and highly effective even after just one dose.

In fact, it may be even better than the Pfizer jab.

A new trial reported yesterday in Scotland revealed that 28 to 34 days after the first shot the AstraZeneca vaccine reduced the risk of COVID-19 hospital admissions by roughly 94 percent compared to 85 percent for the Pfizer vaccine.

America has 300 million AstraZeneca doses on order ready to go.

So, my firm urgent advice to President Biden is to get on and use the damn things.

Not least because the vaccine rollout in the US has hit a sudden blip.

Its rolling 7-day average for daily vaccination doses administered hit a high of 1.7 million on February 16. But that number has steadily fallen back to 1.4 million yesterday.

One of the reasons being cited for this fall is supply issues, which again begs the question: why is the US not deploying the AstraZeneca vaccine too?

It’s just not good enough for the Biden administration to allow any kind of drop-off like this on such a crucial rollout.

The President has announced five days of mourning for the 500,000 COVID victims.

A Florida resident gets vaccinated at the drive-thru site at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Monday

A Florida resident gets vaccinated at the drive-thru site at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Monday

I’m sure this lengthy period of reflection is greatly appreciated by the families of those who died.

But Biden should resist the temptation to constantly look back at the appalling damage done by President Trump in this crisis because it’s a waste of his time and energy.

We all know how bad it was. The deaths speak for themselves.

Instead, Biden should focus all his attention and effort on ensuring as many Americans get vaccinated as fast as possible.

To achieve this, he should demand the AstraZeneca vaccine be immediately approved for emergency use in the United States.

If it’s safe enough for the WHO, then it’s surely safe enough for the US?

Or the President of the United States can continue to watch the UK kick America’s butt on vaccination rollout, and that’s not a place any US president should ever want to find themselves.

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