President Biden has pledged to make FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines available to all Americans. As we recognize the remarkable achievement of the United States having administered over 340 million doses in a few short months, we reflect on those who are still waiting their turn, many of whom are part of our Democrats Abroad community. Americans remain Americans wherever they live, whether in Texas, Tennessee, Thailand, or Tanzania.
While Americans living in Canada, the United Kingdom, and certain other countries may already be included in successful national vaccination programs, significant numbers live in countries where vaccination efforts are limited by supply, where U.S. FDA-approved vaccines remain unavailable, or where foreigners are not treated on equal terms with local citizens.
Democrats Abroad conducted a survey of members in Thailand in April and May 2021, at a time when foreign residents were entirely excluded from accessing vaccines, and found that:
- 98% of American respondents wanted a U.S.-approved vaccine
- 88% were extremely or very concerned about COVID-19
- 31% had a medical condition which put them at higher risk of severe illness due to COVID
- 11% of respondents were U.S. military veterans
A second survey of 30 countries by Democrats Abroad which received over 1,000 responses between August 28 and October 12, 2021 found that although vaccine access had improved for many Americans living overseas, 24% still had no access to vaccines or were only partially vaccinated (8% and 16%, respectively).
In some cases, Americans are unable to get access to vaccines where they live because the overall supply is inadequate. In many instances, however, foreign residents are excluded from local vaccination programs, and in 13 countries, Americans reported that they were not given equal access to vaccines compared to the citizens of their country of residence. Despite millions of doses donated by the U.S. to these countries, inequitable access remains a significant barrier to accessing life-saving vaccinations for Americans living abroad which has a profound impact. In Thailand, for example, 5 Americans died of COVID-19 in September 2021 alone.
Recent media coverage has highlighted these inequities and the impact on American expatriates, including the Washington Post on October 24, 2021 in Americans Abroad Search for a First Vaccine Dose as Millions at Home Get Their Third One:
The disparity has grown as millions of people in the United States are receiving their third dose of high-quality vaccines, while some citizens abroad have yet to get their first. And months of pleading from the expats and their advocates, who represent as many as 9 million Americans overseas, has produced no change in policy.
“You have Americans who are filing and paying taxes, and a promise by the administration that all Americans will get vaccinated, and yet that whole community has been left out of the equation,” said Marylouise Serrato, executive director of American Citizens Abroad.
The Hill also wrote on October 13, 2021 in Expats Plead with US to Deliver COVID-19 Vaccines:
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called on the Biden administration to make doses available to expatriates as part of the U.S. government’s global vaccination efforts. But the administration has yet to address the issue beyond saying the State Department does not typically provide direct medical care to private citizens abroad…Unless the U.S. government comes up with a plan to help those people directly, it could be a long time,” a Democratic aide told The Hill. “Waiting is not a viable option in some of those places.”
The Democrats Abroad COVID-19 Task Force was formed to address this critical situation and advocate that the U.S. government fulfil its pledge to vaccinate all Americans by providing Americans overseas with access to FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines in their countries of residence.
View a video from Americans abroad who are in need of vaccines here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9lakugrkQc
TWO SEPARATE AND COMPLEMENTARY SOLUTIONS
Vaccinating overseas Americans is completely separate and distinct from the U.S. demonstrating moral and global leadership by donating vaccines via COVAX or through bilateral agreements – something that we believe most Americans abroad strongly support. But also providing vaccines directly to Americans abroad is not “attaching strings” to those donations – nothing needs to be asked in return. In fact, by vaccinating Americans with a separate and direct allocation, the U.S. would effectively free up tens or hundreds of thousands of doses for use by the host country’s own citizens, and avoid the diversion of limited hospital resources to Americans who might otherwise contract the virus.
THE PROBLEM WITH EXISTING OPTIONS
Returning to the U.S. for vaccinations can be a challenge for many because of health, timing, and cost. Long-distance travel (especially risky if unvaccinated) is simply not an option for disabled veterans and other retirees on a pension, employees, or small business owners unable to take two months’ leave, parents with school-age children, NGO workers, and others. Many countries also require an expensive, self-financed quarantine upon return.
In addition, travel to the U.S. by large numbers of unvaccinated Americans from countries where COVID-19 case numbers are rising and highly transmissible variants are rampant may pose serious risks to the health and security of Americans at home. The State Department’s own travel advisory suggests reconsidering travel to many of the same countries that have little or no effective vaccine penetration - but where many Americans live.
PROVEN ABILITY TO GET IT DONE
The U.S. government has successfully demonstrated its ability to vaccinate Americans in the far corners of the world. The State Department has successfully vaccinated tens of thousands of Foreign Service personnel, their families, and local staff around the world. The Defense Department has also administered over one million doses at dozens of international facilities. Some countries will clearly be more challenging than others, but as noted in the recent letter from Senators Murphy and Moran to Secretary Blinken and cosigned by 24 other Senators (https://www.murphy.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/vaccinating_amcits_letter.pdf), coordination with the Defense Department could facilitate the process of getting vaccines to all American citizens abroad who want them. Outsourcing delivery of the jabs to local hospitals is also a viable option in many countries, an approach successfully taken by the French government in vaccinating their citizens abroad. Senator Murphy has also introduced an amendment to Senate Bill 2297, requiring the government to describe how it will provide vaccines to Americans overseas who do not have access to FDA or WHO approved vaccines. That amendment has been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is now part of the legislation being considered.
In addition to the efforts of Senators Murphy and Moran, letters have been sent to the White House and the State Department by House and Senate members asking for action on vaccines for Americans overseas, most recently by the chair of the re-activated House Americans Abroad Caucus, Rep. Carolyn Maloney and her co-chair Rep. María Elvira Salazar and 21 colleagues on October 19, 2021. In addition Rep. Raul Grijalva and 27 other members of Congress asked the White House to take executive action on behalf of Americans overseas and U.S. military veterans. And Rep. Debbie Lesko and 9 colleagues called on President Biden in June 2021 to provide vaccines to Americans abroad.
This is an issue of global public health and national security. Americans abroad are taxpayers, voters, and proud to be Americans, representing our country in business, in education, via NGOs, or simply as individuals whose lives and family circumstances have led them to reside overseas. The U.S. has sufficient supply of FDA-authorized vaccines and the proven logistical resources to fulfill the President’s promise to vaccinate all Americans. We Can Do This.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The Task Force began in February 2021, and although there has been some progress, still, at the end of the year too many Americans living overseas remain unable to access both primary vaccines or booster shots. Below are some ways you can help.
If you are a U.S. expat and unable to get vaccinated in your country of residence, you can also contact the Task Force at: [email protected]
- Alert your Members of Congress: The Task Force has reached out to Congress, and our discussions have shown that many Senators and Representatives are unaware of the vaccine situation for Americans living overseas, and that those in Congress who took up the call for expat vaccination did so because they were alerted to the issue by their constituents. We urge you to share the articles and your concerns with your Senators and Representatives, and ask friends and family in the States to do the same – it really can make a difference!
- Educate others: Most Americans in the U.S. are not aware of the difficulties Americans abroad face in regard to getting vaccinated. Please tell your friends and relatives in the U.S. about this situation and urge them to write and call their Members of Congress expressing their concern
- Alert the press: Reach out to news outlets, such as TV stations and newspapers, in your hometown or wherever you have ties, to suggest a story on Americans abroad without access to vaccines. Get your friends and family members to do the same. The more we raise the profile of this issue, the better chance we stand.
- Advocate for veterans: Many veterans have retired or live overseas. If you are a veteran or know others who are, be sure to raise the issue of veterans who cannot get vaccinated with your Members of Congress or with the press.
- Join DA’s COVID-19 Task Force: Send an email to [email protected] to be notified of the next weekly Zoom meeting.