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Jen Psaki: ‘Language Barriers’ Delayed U.S. Shipments of COVID-19 Vaccine Overseas

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds the daily press briefing in Washington, D.C., May 4, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that “language barriers” are one of the reasons the Biden administration failed to start shipping doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to other countries by the end of May, and only determined where to ship 55 million doses this week, much later than President Biden promised earlier this year.

 Well, first, let me say we’ve — we’re committed to allo- — we’re committed allocating those doses; we’ve done exactly that.  What we found to be the biggest challenge is not actually the supply — we have plenty of doses to share with the world — but this is a herculean logistical challenge.  And we’ve seen that as we’ve begun to implement.

So, you know, as we work with countries, we need to ensure that there’s — safety and regulatory information is shared.  Some supply teams need needles, syringes, and alcohol pads.  Transportation needs — teams need to ensure that there are proper temperature storage, prevent breakage, and ensure the vaccine immediately clears Customs.

So, this has not, as you all know, been done before.  Sometimes it’s even language barriers that occur as we’re working to get these doses out to countries.

Now, I’m fairly certain the U.S. State Department has buildings full of people who speak just about every language on earth. The Foreign Service Institute has an entire school, the School of Language Studies, that does nothing but teach language and culture to U.S. diplomatic staff. And that’s not counting the multilingual employees of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Peace Corps, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. Department of Defense, the and the intelligence community. It’s really hard to believe that the U.S. couldn’t ship extra vaccines overseas sooner because they couldn’t find someone to translate something important.

As for the claim that distributing the vaccines represents a herculean logistical challenge, somehow the U.S. managed to ship more than 12,000 tons of supplies per day to West Berlin in 1949. Within six days of the Japanese earthquake in 2011, the U.S. Seventh Fleet was responding with 19 ships, 140 aircraft, and more than 18,000 personnel.

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