The Biden administration announced Thursday that it plans to distribute at least 80 million surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses via the global COVAX partnership and by sharing them directly to countries in need.
This week, the White House detailed a plan for doling out 25 million of those doses, which will serve as a guiding framework for the rest of the vaccine supply to be shared with the billions of people around the world who still need the shots.
“We are sharing these doses not to secure favors or extract concessions. We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values,” the White House said in a statement Thursday.
Three-quarters of the supply earmarked for other countries will be handed over to COVAX, the global initiative funded in large part by the U.S. that aims to ensure everyone around the world can get vaccinated against COVID-19 to halt the pandemic.
COVAX, the White House said, will send about 6 million doses to Latin America and the Caribbean, about 7 million doses to South and Southeast Asia, and about 5 million doses to Africa.
One-quarter of the supply ― about 6 million doses ― will be distributed at the White House’s discretion. The administration will prioritize “countries experiencing surges, those in crisis, and other partners and neighbors,” it said, specifically naming Mexico, Canada, South Korea, the West Bank and Gaza, Ukraine, Kosovo, Haiti, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Yemen.
“As long as this pandemic is raging anywhere in the world, the American people will still be vulnerable,” the White House said in its statement.
Experts agree that even if the U.S. reaches a high level of vaccination, if the virus is allowed to spread unchecked in other parts of the world, it could mutate into new versions that could be less susceptible to the vaccines we have, putting Americans at greater risk.
Last month, the Biden administration threw its support behind a movement to waive patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments that has been led by India and South Africa. Waiving intellectual property rights, public health advocates argue, will allow separate regions of the world to mass-produce generic versions of the drugs for their own populations ― a key step to stopping the current pandemic and reducing the risks of the next one.
The administration reiterated its support for such a waiver, saying Thursday that “over time, we need more companies producing life-saving doses of proven vaccines that are shared equitably.”
While COVAX has made progress in equitable vaccine distribution, it has limits. Although Biden pledged $4 billion to COVAX back in February ― making the U.S. its largest single donor ― the effort to vaccinate most adults around the world will require up to $45 billion more, the World Health Organization has said.
As demand drops around the country, the U.S. faces increasing pressure to share more of its vaccine stockpile and the raw materials to make the vaccines with other parts of the world. So far, nearly 300 million individual doses have been administered in the United States, meaning that more than half of eligible American adults have had at least one shot. The proportion of people in other countries who have received at least one shot is much lower: 18% in Mexico; 13% in India; and 1.1% in Venezuela, according to data compiled by The New York Times.
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