‘We did overbuy’: Duke experts project 300 million excess vaccine doses in US by late July

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The United States could have 300 million excess doses of the COVID-19 vaccines by the end of July, according to a report published Thursday by a team of Duke University health experts.

The authors say the staggering size of the projected surplus — nearly enough for an extra dose for each of the country’s roughly 320 million people — account for enough shots to share with countries having supply problems while also leaving enough to satisfy the demand in the U.S.

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“We’re in a fortunate position to have excess doses that even by summer, we can start to play a really leading role in the global response in addition to getting our own house in order,” Dr. Krishna Udayakumar, the founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center and one of the paper’s authors, told CBS 17 News.

They also say just four nations or regions — which account for less than half the world’s population — are giving 70 percent of all doses of the vaccines while funding and supply issues have kept the poorest countries from doing much inoculating at all.

Udayakumar says that strengthens the authors’ argument that the U.S. should take more of a leadership role globally in the vaccination effort.

“A pandemic anywhere is really a pandemic everywhere,” Udayakumar said. “And we can roll out vaccinations as quickly as possible, but we will not be safe even in the U.S. because if the infection is raging in different parts of the world, we’re going to start to see new variants emerge that may be less susceptible to our current generation of vaccines. So we also aren’t going to recover from an economic perspective in terms of the global economy and even the US economy until we take care of the pandemic.”

Udayakumar outlined a three-pronged solution: Strengthening the global vaccine-sharing COVAX system, making excess doses available as soon as possible and leading efforts to increase safe and reliable vaccine manufacturing globally.

Udayakumar says the authors arrived at the sum of 300 million after studying production timelines and the U.S. government’s advance purchases of vaccines from five companies. 

Those include the two currently being administered — Moderna and Pfizer — along with the since-paused Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine and two that have yet to receive emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration: AstraZeneca and Novavax.

“And if you look across those five, there’s something close to 900 million doses that should be available and delivered to the U.S. by the end of July,” Udayakumar said. “And even if we assume that we reserve a vaccine dose or two doses for every adult, and even every child 12 and up, that still leaves us with several hundred million doses in addition to what we might need in the short term.

“We did overbuy, clearly, but I think it was a prudent strategy when we bought all of these doses,” Udayakumar said, comparing the advance purchases to a stock portfolio or a bet-hedging strategy in case one or more of the manufacturers fell through.

“There was this whole process of testing and developing at the same time, so that the successful candidate would become widely available,” said Dr. Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist at RTI International. “But we’ve had multiple successful candidate vaccines, and therefore we have a very large supply.”

The projected surplus comes as demand appears to be dropping, with experts concerned that vaccine hesitancy will keep the U.S. from reaching the herd immunity threshold, estimated at 70 percent to 90 percent of the population being protected.

“It’s extremely concerning to me, because it is definitely showing broader vaccine hesitancy than one would hope,” MacDonald said.

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