US panel urges Washington to join WHO-led coronavirus vaccine facility

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The United States should opt into the World Health Organization-led COVAX facility for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, an independent expert panel tapped by top US health officials to advise on vaccine allocation said on Friday.

“The US government should commit to a leadership role in the equitable allocation of COVID-19 vaccine globally by opting into the COVAX facility .... deploying a proportion of the US vaccine supply for global allocation,” the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said in a statement.

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The COVAX facility, led by the WHO and the public-private partnership GAVI vaccine alliance, gives access to COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development. The White House said in September it would not join the global effort, because of the WHO’s involvement.

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The panel’s report said that participating in the global allocation of COVID-19 vaccines, including the possibility of devoting some of the reserved capacity of the US supply, could be a wise investment in future domestic preparedness.

In the United States, initial supply of COVID-19 vaccines should go to front-line health workers and first responders, the panel said, similar to its draft report in September.

The panel also recommended that vaccines be rolled out in four phases, with the first phase focused on managing what will initially be a scarce supply of vaccines.

The report was commissioned by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the agency which typically handles vaccine recommendations through an advisory group of experts.

Operation Warp Speed, the government group with officials from the departments of Health and Human Services and Defense, will ultimately decide how to allocate the vaccines, the head of the CDC said last month.

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