U.S. downplays possibility of sharing COVID-19 vaccines with Mexico

FILE PHOTO: Then-U.S. vice president Joe Biden (L) shakes hands with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, then candidate for president of Mexico in March 2012

By Steve Holland and Dave Graham

WASHINGTON/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The Biden administration on Monday downplayed the prospect of sharing coronavirus vaccines with Mexico, saying it is focused first on getting its own population protected against a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans.

The remarks by White House press secretary Jen Psaki came before a video conference between Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and U.S. President Joe Biden, in which the Mexican leader was expected to ask the United States to consider sharing some of its COVID-19 vaccine supply.

"The administration's focus is on ensuring that every American is vaccinated. And once we accomplish that objective, we're happy to discuss further steps," Psaki said at a White House news conference.

Biden told reporters that the two leaders would discuss the issue at the meeting's outset. But an official statement released after the meeting ended made no mention of vaccine distribution.

Biden has predicted the United States will have enough supply by late July to inoculate all Americans. U.S. authorities have administered 76.9 million doses to date, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, enough for 23% of the population to get the two doses recommended for full protection under the vaccines that have been deployed so far.

Mexico has vaccinated roughly 2.5 million doses so far, enough for about 1% of the population, according to data compiled by Reuters https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps. Officials have been frustrated by bottlenecks in supply and raised concerns that wealthy countries are hoarding vaccines.

Loprez Obrador said at a news conference before the meeting that he would ask Biden to share the vaccines it has. Mexico would repay Washington once pharmaceutical companies have delivered on their orders, according to Reuters reporting.

In a joint statement released after the meeting, the two countries said they would deepen their cooperation on COVID-19 response.

They also said they would work together on immigration policies "that recognize the dignity of migrants and the imperative of orderly, safe, and regular migration."

Lopez Obrador is pushing for more U.S. work permits for Mexicans and Central Americans, including professionals.

The two countries also said they would try to cooperate on efforts to slow climate change and would restart high-level diplomatic talks on trade and labor rights.

(Reporting by Dave Graham, Steve Holland and Alexandra Alper; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose and David Alire Garcia; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Giles Elgood, Aurora Ellis and Jonathan Oatis)