The Trump administration created a secret list prioritizing the countries that would receive COVID-19 vaccines from the US early in the pandemic, and favored Israel and other allies over poorer countries, several current and former officials said in a report published Friday.
According to POLITICO, the list was an annex to a longer document that laid out the administration’s international approach to combating COVID-19. The report said the list proves US officials initially planned to distribute the life-saving shots based on political preferences.
Two officials told the news site that after the 2020 election, the documents were passed on to the Biden administration. It was not clear what the current US administration’s policy was on delivering vaccines abroad, but an official said it “does not use the previous administration’s policy or the cited list to make vaccine sharing decisions.”
The report said the list was split into several sections: strategic allies — including Israel, Canada, Taiwan, South Korea and some European nations; countries that helped develop the vaccine; countries with relationships with Gavi, a global vaccine alliance; and other countries not included in the previous three groups.
It included an assessment of each country’s ability to absorb and distribute doses, and its coronavirus outbreak situation, three former officials directly involved in the decision-making process told POLITICO.
“We identified categories and we put weights to them, and then subject matter experts from each [agency] came in and informed those categories,” one former Trump official said. “From there, we had a panel of experts score each country based on the evidence provided.”
Some of the officials who spoke with POLITICO said the list was classified, while others claimed it was only marked as sensitive. They all agreed the document was purposefully held within a small circle of officials over fears of a leak that could anger countries and create diplomatic headaches for the Trump administration, the report said.
Global health organizations have advocated over the past two years to first distribute COVID-19 shots to countries most in need.
The World Health Organization has long criticized the unequal distribution of vaccines and called for manufacturers and other countries to prioritize the UN’s COVAX program.
Earlier this month COVAX said that 36 of its 194 member countries had vaccinated less than 10% of their population and 88 had vaccinated less than 40%.
The program has made deliveries to 144 countries so far, “but the work that has gone into this milestone is only a reminder of the work that remains,” WHO said in a statement.
Israel was reported last month to have agreed to donate 1 million coronavirus vaccines to a number of African nations through COVAX.
Israel — under then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of then-US president Donald Trump — was among the first nations to secure millions of vaccine doses, enough to inoculate most of the population and to become a leader in the global vaccination effort.
Health Ministry data showed Friday that out of roughly 9.5 million people in the country, 4,436,378 Israelis have received their third shot, and over 6 million have received two doses. An additional 623,010 have received a fourth dose, as the country began to roll out the option for those over 18 with underlying health issues, and medical staff.