By ZEKE MILLER
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the United States will quickly give an initial allocation of 25 million doses of excess vaccine overseas under the United Nations-backed COVAX program, promising infusions for South and Central America, Asia, Africa and others at a time of glaring overseas shortages and overwhelming supplies at home.
The doses mark a substantial – and immediate – boost to the lagging effort of COVAX, which to date has only shared 76 million doses with countries in need.
The announcement came just hours after World Health Organization officials in Africa re-issued a call to share vaccines amid an alarming situation on the continent, where shipments have “almost stopped “while cases of the virus have increased over the past two weeks.
Overall, the White House has announced plans to share 80 million doses worldwide by the end of June, most through COVAX. Officials say a quarter of the country’s surplus will be held in reserve for emergencies and that the United States will share directly with its allies and partners.
Of the first 19 million donated via COVAX, approximately 6 million doses will go to South and Central America, 7 million to Asia and 5 million to Africa.
“As long as this pandemic rages anywhere in the world, the American people will always be vulnerable,” Biden said in a statement. “And the United States is committed to bringing the same urgency to international vaccination efforts that we have demonstrated at home. “
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the US would “retain power” over the final destination of doses distributed through COVAX.
But he also said: “We are not seeking concessions, we are not extorting, we are not imposing conditions like other countries that provide doses do. … These are doses that are administered, given free and clearly to these countries, with the sole aim of improving the public health situation and helping to end the pandemic. “
The remaining 6 million of the initial distribution of 25 million will be directed by the White House to allies and partners of the United States, including Mexico, Canada, South Korea, West Bank and Gaza, India, Ukraine, Kosovo, Haiti, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Yemen, as well as for United Nations frontline workers.
The White House did not say when the doses would start shipping overseas, but press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration hoped to send them “as quickly as we can logistically get them out.”
Vice President Kamala Harris has informed some U.S. partners they will start receiving doses, in separate calls with Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador, President Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago. Harris is due to visit Guatemala and Mexico next week.
The long-awaited vaccine-sharing plan comes as demand for vaccines in the United States has declined dramatically – more than 63% of adults have received at least one dose – and global supply inequalities have become more pronounced.
Dozens of countries have requested doses from the United States, but to date only Mexico and Canada have received 4.5 million combined doses. The United States has also announced plans to share enough snapshots with South Korea to vaccinate its 550,000 troops serving alongside the US military on the peninsula. White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said one million doses of Johnson & Johnson were being shipped to South Korea on Thursday.
The United States has committed over $ 4 billion to COVAX, but with a vaccine shortage – and rich countries locking up most of them – the need greater than funding has been for immediate access to actual doses, to overcome this. that health officials have long decried as unequal access. vaccines.
US action means “frontline workers and populations at risk will receive potentially life-saving vaccines” and bring the world “closer to the end of the acute phase of the pandemic,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi , which is at the head of the COVAX alliance.
However, Tom Hart, interim CEO of The ONE Campaign, said that while Thursday’s announcement was a “welcome step, the Biden administration must commit to sharing more doses.”
“The world is looking to the United States for global leadership, and more ambition is needed,” he said.
Biden has pledged to supply other countries with the 60 million US-produced doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not yet been approved for use in America but is widely approved around the world. AstraZeneca’s doses have been suspended from export by a week-long safety review by the Food and Drug Administration, and without them Biden will be struggling to meet his share target.
The White House said the initial 25 million doses announced Thursday would be shipped from existing federal stocks of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. More doses should be available for sharing in the coming months.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said via Twitter that Harris informed him ahead of the White House announcement of the decision to send 1 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson jab vaccine. “I expressed our gratitude to him on behalf of the Mexican people,” he wrote.
Guatemalan Giammattei said Harris told him the US government would send his country 500,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Under its purchasing agreements with drug manufacturers, the United States controlled the initial production of its domestic manufacturers. Pfizer and Moderna are only now starting to export vaccines produced in the United States to overseas customers. The United States has ordered hundreds of millions of additional doses, both of licensed vaccines and in development.
The White House also announced that US producers of vaccine materials and ingredients will no longer have to prioritize orders from three drugmakers working on COVID-19 injections that have not received US approval. – Sanofi, Novavax and AstraZeneca – paving the way for more materials to be shipped overseas to help with production there.
AP writers Christopher Sherman in Mexico City, Gerald Imray in Cape Town, South Africa, and Jamey Keaton in Geneva contributed.