Why the U.S. still can't donate vaccines to countries in need

The contracts the Trump administration signed with the vaccine manufacturers prohibit the U.S. from sharing its surplus doses with the rest of the world. According to contract language Vanity Fair has obtained, the agreements with Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen state: “The Government may not use, or authorize the use of, any products or materials provided under this Project Agreement, unless such use occurs in the United States” or U.S. territories.

The clauses in question are designed to ensure that the manufacturers retain liability protection, but they have had the effect of projecting the Trump administration’s America First agenda into the Biden era. “That is what has completely and totally prohibited the U.S. from donating or reselling, because it would be in breach of contract,” said a senior administration official involved in the global planning effort. “It is a complete and total ban. Those legal parameters must change before we do anything to help the rest of the world.”

In a statement to Vanity Fair, a Defense Department spokesperson acknowledged the contract restrictions, saying: “DoD did attempt to negotiate terms that would allow the use of vaccine doses outside the U.S., but in some cases, the vaccine manufacturers refused.” Given the imperative to produce 300 million doses for the American public, said the spokesperson, Operation Warp Speed officials agreed that it was “more important to contract with the vaccine manufacturers for doses that could be used” by U.S. citizens “than walk away from the negotiations based on this single term.”