On Monday, President Joe Biden announced that the United States will ship 20 million more surplus doses of Covid-19 vaccines to countries in need by the end of June, Alana Wise reports for NPR.
The U.S. had committed to send 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine abroad last month. This week’s announcement commits an additional 20 million doses of the vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, which are authorized for use in the United States. The White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients will oversee the program and work with the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 vaccine global access program, COVAX, to distribute the vaccine doses fairly.
This marks the first time that President Biden has announced a plan to give away vaccine doses that are authorized for use in the United States.
“He’s crossed the threshold into direct donations,” says J. Stephen Morrison, the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ senior vice president and global health expert, to the New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Daniel E. Slotnik. “That’s an important shift.”
The administration has not yet announced how the 80 million doses will be distributed. So far, the U.S. has shared 4.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with Canada and Mexico, per Popular Science. But the announcement followed a World Health Organization news conference during which the director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on countries with high vaccination rates to help countries now facing surges of infections.
By Tuesday, about 60 percent of adults in the U.S. had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and seven states have reached 70 percent, Biden said during the briefing, NPR reports. (Those states are Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont, CNN's Deidre McPhillips and Elizabeth Cohen report.) While new cases of Covid-19, hospitalizations, and deaths are falling across the U.S. on average, other countries like India are facing a devastating surge.
Because India is a major supplier of vaccine doses and the country has been prioritizing its own residents amid the surge there, the COVAX program is 140 million doses short, Tulip Mazumdar reports for BBC News. Unicef joined the WHO in calling on the G7 countries—Canada, the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and Japan, as well as the European Union, to donate surplus Covid-19 vaccine supplies.
“We know America will never be fully safe until the pandemic that’s raging globally is under control,” said Biden, per the New York Times. “No ocean’s wide enough, no wall’s high enough, to keep us safe.”
Biden also noted the U.S. has committed to sending five times more vaccine doses overseas than other countries, per Kaitlan Collins and Kate Sullivan at CNN. France, for instance, has committed to donate half a million doses, and Belgium has promised 100,000, per BBC News. China and Russia have also committed to sharing their vaccines, albeit as a tool of diplomacy; Biden says doses shared by the U.S. will be given without any expectations of favors in return, per the New York Times.
“We want to lead the world with our values, with this demonstration of our innovation and ingenuity, and the fundamental decency of the American people,” said Biden during the briefing, per the Times. “Just as in World War II America was the arsenal of democracy, in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic our nation’s going to be the arsenal of vaccines for the rest of the world.”