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U.S. Announces Plans to Export Its AstraZeneca Vaccine Stockpile

Facing accusations of vaccine hoarding, the United States will soon offload vaccines it has little use for.

By Colm Quinn, the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A medical worker handles an empty vial of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
A medical worker handles an empty vial of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a vaccination center in Erfurt, Germany, on April 8. Photo by Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The United States announces plans to export its AstraZeneca vaccine doses, Human Rights Watch accuses the Israeli government of committing the crime of apartheid, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces pressure over alleged lockdown comments.

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U.S. to Share AstraZeneca Stockpile

The United States is to export up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to other countries as it bowed to increasing international pressure to share part of its bulging vaccine stockpile.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki did not say to which countries the vaccines would be sent but said the shot would have to be approved by national regulators first. Four million doses of the vaccine had already been granted to neighbors Canada and Mexico. Under current plans, 10 million doses will be shipped “in coming weeks,” Psaki said, while the remaining 50 million doses will be ready in May and June.

The United States, already among the top five vaccine-producing powers, has some ground to make up when it comes to exports. China has already exported 200 million doses, while the European Union has exported 82 million doses. India, a cautionary tale in third place, shipped off 66 million vaccine doses before it froze exports in the face of its rising domestic coronavirus caseload.

Destination India? Although even 60 million doses are a drop in the bucket for a country of its size, India is likely to be a prime destination for some of the surplus U.S. vaccines. Roughly 323,000 new cases were reported across the country on Tuesday, ending a five-day streak of record-breaking daily cases. Numbers are likely to jump again during the week as Tuesday’s figure reflects lower testing rates over the weekend.

EU vs. AZ. As the United States passes on its AstraZeneca stock, the European Union is still eager to receive its own. The bloc is suing the vaccine maker for falling short on its delivery targets, delaying vaccination drives in the 27 member states, and encouraging some to seek alternatives from Russia and China.

The second billion. AstraZeneca vaccines may not be the only doses the United States begins sharing as vaccine production dramatically ramps up. The number of manufactured vaccine doses worldwide breached the 1 billion mark earlier this month. The second billion is expected by May 27, according to research firm Airfinity.


What We’re Following Today

Zarif audio leaked. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is facing pressure from his conservative detractors to resign after an interview he gave to an oral history project was leaked. Zarif can be heard on the recording lamenting his limited role in crafting Iran’s diplomacy, accusing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of dominating foreign-policy decisions. Zarif also criticized the late Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani for allegedly conspiring with Russia to scupper the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, although he also expressed his admiration for the slain military leader.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said the leak was “illegal” and only intended for “historical” purposes. Nonetheless, Khatibzadeh added, the recording showed “Iranian officials are dynamic and transparent in their expertise.”

Rights group accuses Israel of apartheid. Human Rights Watch has accused the Israeli government of committing the crime of apartheid in a new report released today, citing policies that “maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians,” especially in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. The apartheid designation is the first from an international rights organization and follows a similar labeling of Israel as an “apartheid regime” by Israeli group B’Tselem in January. Israel’s foreign ministry dismissed today’s report as both “preposterous and false” and accused Human Rights Watch of pursuing a “long-standing anti-Israeli agenda.”

Chad’s new prime minister. Chad’s new military government, set up after the death of President Idriss Déby, has named Albert Pahimi Padacké as interim prime minister. Padacké had served as prime minister from 2016 to 2018 and finished second to Déby in Chad’s April 11 presidential election.

The decision has angered opposition politicians. It is not up to the transitional military council to designate a prime minister in this isolated manner, said Yacine Abderamane, president of the opposition Reformist Party. The African Union has called for a swift return to democratic rule following Déby’s death and reacted with “grave concern” to the new military council headed by Déby’s son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno.


Keep an Eye On

Johnson under fire. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is confronting a public outcry over comments he allegedly made during a discussion on whether to institute a third national coronavirus lockdown late last year. Johnson, underlining his opposition to a lockdown, reportedly said “let the bodies pile high in their thousands.” Johnson and a number of ministers have denied the comments were ever made.

Saudi-Qatar ties. Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud has invited Qatari leader Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to visit the kingdom in the latest sign of warming ties. Sheikh Tamim last visited Saudi Arabia in January, when Gulf leaders agreed to lift a three-and-a-half year embargo on Qatar. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have since resumed air travel and reopened a border crossing between the two countries.

Gunfire rocks Mogadishu. Violence erupted in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on Sunday as anti-government fighters traded fire with troops loyal to Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed over his decision to remain in power after his term expired. The president, whose four-year term ended in February, extended his presidency for two years on April 14 after an election deadlock, drawing strong condemnation from, among others, the United States and the European Union, who have threatened to impose sanctions on the country.


Odds and Ends

A Russian man was finally kicked off a popular Chinese singing competition after weeks of pleading with the voting public to let him leave, AFP reports. Vladislav Ivanov, a fluent Mandarin speaker, had been hired by Produce Camp 2021 as a Chinese teacher but was offered a spot as a contestant after organizers noticed his good looks.

Ivanov appeared to quickly regret the decision—which involved sequestering in dorms without phone access—turning in mumbling, lackluster performances in a bid to leave the show without breaking his contract and paying a hefty penalty. “Don’t love me. You’ll get no results,” he told the public on one episode as he begged them to vote him out.

Ivanov’s approach earned him an enthusiastic fanbase, ironically describing him “the most devoted wage slave” and holding him up as an icon of “Sang culture,” a reference to an apathetic approach to life popular among some young Chinese people.

Ivanov made it to the final round on Saturday but fell short of the required votes to join the 11-man boy band contractually obliged to form among the contest’s winners. “I’m finally getting off work,” Ivanov wrote on his Weibo account following his departure.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn