Number of vaccines exported by Biden admin so far: zero?

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

So says NBC News, almost two weeks after Joe Biden promised to export 80 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccines to tamp down catastrophic eruptions. At that time, I asked whether Biden had a plan for becoming the pandemic’s “arsenal of the world,” or whether this was just another reactive declaration without any preparation.

Suuuuuure looks like the latter so far:

The White House commitment to ship millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines abroad has generated diplomatic and logistical challenges for administration officials to untangle as more countries seek U.S. assistance to overcome dire vaccine shortages.

Since President Joe Biden announced this month that 80 million shots would be shipped abroad by the end of June, the White House has yet to send out any of the doses because of a variety of hurdles from logistical to regulatory. In the meantime, infections are surging in countries from Haiti to Japan, which struggle with organizational challenges and have only a small fraction of the doses they need. …

White House Covid-19 coordinator Andy Slavitt said Wednesday that the U.S. is trying to move to a “tighter distribution system” so the federal government can keep better track of doses and export any additional ones.

There is also the challenge of transporting tens of millions of doses around the globe, ensuring that there are enough planes and making sure that the doses are properly stored and that the countries receiving them have the infrastructure to refrigerate and distribute them, an administration official said.

Ahem. Aren’t those the issues one explores before making a commitment to export 80 million doses on an emergency basis? This is precisely what I warned about when I asked whether Biden had a real plan to deliver, or was just paying lip service as an instant reaction to criticism.

And let’s not forget that the idea hardly popped into Biden’s head unbidden on May 17. American allies in Europe and in COVID-19 hotspots like India and Brazil had been begging for extra doses for months. The UN and COVAX had been demanding part of the US supply since we started vaccinations in late December. Biden reluctantly sent some unapproved AstraZeneca to Canada and Mexico in mid-March, two months before this announcement. The White House certainly had to have figured out some of the “diplomatic and logistical hurdles” at that point, or at least should have started working to resolve them ahead of the entirely predictable point when we would start becoming the major exporter for Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.

Again, this seems pretty prescient:

However, we should have had a plan in place all along to export vaccines strategically. We could have avoided some ambiguity by establishing benchmarks for exports months ago so our allies and partners could know what to expect. Instead, Biden ended up acting reactively, essentially getting pushed into the correct choice by criticism rather than plan for success.

Biden doesn’t have plans or strategies. He reacts, mainly when criticized, and the rest of his team has to scramble to put together strategies. It’s like watching someone playing checkers in a chess tournament, and it’s happening in every major strategic policy area.