US President Joe Biden announces international COVID-19 vaccine-sharing plan
President Joe Biden on Thursday announced that the US will allocate 75 percent - nearly 1.9 crore of the first tranche of 2.5 crore doses - of unused COVID-19 vaccines from its stockpile through the UN-backed COVAX global vaccine sharing programme to countries in South and Southeast Asia as well as Africa as part of his administration's framework for sharing 80 million (8 crore) vaccines globally by the end of June.
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and three other world leaders, and informed them that the US will start sharing the first 25 million (2.5 crore) doses of COVID vaccines with their respective countries.
In a statement, President Biden provided details on how the US will allocate the first 25 million of the vaccines to lay the ground for increased global coverage and to address real and potential surges, high burdens of disease, and the needs of the most vulnerable countries.
"At least 75 percent of these doses - nearly 19 million- will be shared through COVAX, including approximately 6 million doses for Latin America and the Caribbean, approximately seven million for South and Southeast Asia, and approximately five million for Africa," Biden said.
"The remaining doses, just over six million, will be shared directly with countries experiencing surges, those in crisis, and other partners and neighbours, including Canada, Mexico, India, and the Republic of Korea, he said.
The Biden administration had been under pressure to send the excess COVID-19 vaccines with the US to nations like India, which are facing severe vaccine shortages. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was in Washington last week to discuss possible help from the US in addressing the vaccine shortages in India.
"We are sharing these doses not to secure favours or extract concessions. We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic... And we will continue to follow the science and work in close cooperation with our democratic partners to coordinate a multilateral effort, including through the G7," Biden added.
Ending the pandemic 'everywhere'
COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, abbreviated as COVAX, is a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines directed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the World Health Organisation.
President Biden on May 17 said the US will share 20 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses with other countries, taking the total number of such shots to 80 million. Ten million is equal to one crore.
The additional 20 million doses will be of the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, on top of 60 million AstraZeneca Plc doses he had already planned to give to other countries.
Biden said the US "also recognises that ending this pandemic means ending it everywhere. As long as this pandemic is raging anywhere in the world, American people will still be vulnerable. And the US is committed to bringing the same urgency to international vaccination efforts that we have demonstrated at home".
The US has already committed $4 billion to support COVAX, and it has launched partnerships to boost global capacity to manufacture more vaccines, he said.
"My administration supports efforts to temporarily waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines because, over time, we need more companies producing life-saving doses of proven vaccines that are shared equitably, Biden said.
"We have already shared more than four million doses of vaccine with Canada and Mexico, and last month, I announced that, by the end of June, the US will share 80 million doses of our vaccine supply with the world, he said.
Noting that strong American leadership is essential to ending this pandemic now, and to strengthening global health security for tomorrow - to better prevent, detect, and respond to the next threat, Biden said the US will be the world's arsenal of vaccines in the shared fight against this virus.
"In the days to come, as we draw on the experience of distributing the vaccine doses announced today, we will have more details to provide about how future doses will be shared. And we will continue to do all we can to build a world that is safer and more secure against the threat of infectious disease, he added.
Eyeing broad global coverage
In a separate statement, Vice President Harris' chief spokesperson Symone Sanders said that she spoke this morning to Prime Minister Modi, Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei and Prime Minister Keith Rowley, Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
"In four separate calls, the Vice President notified each of the leaders that the Biden-Harris Administration will begin sharing the first 25 million doses of COVID vaccines to their respective countries and others, as part of the Biden-Harris Administration's framework for sharing at least 80 million vaccines globally by the end of June," Sanders said.
The Vice President reiterated that the administration's efforts are focused on achieving broad global coverage, responding to surges and other urgent situations and public health needs, and helping as many countries as possible who requested vaccines, the spokesperson said.
The four leaders thanked her, and agreed to continue working together to address COVID-19 and advance our mutual interests around the world, Sanders added.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US "will retain the say" on where the doses distributed through COVAX ultimately go.
"We're not seeking to extract concessions, we're not extorting, we're not imposing conditions the way that other countries who are providing doses are doing; we're doing none of those things," said Sullivan. "These are doses that are being given, donated free and clear to these countries, for the sole purpose of improving the public health situation and helping end the pandemic."
The long-awaited vaccine sharing plan comes as demand for jabs in the US has dropped substantially with over 63 percent of adults getting at least one dose.
Biden has previously committed to providing other nations with all 60 million domestically produced doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is yet to be authorised for use in the country but is widely approved around the world. The US-made doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been held up for export by an ongoing safety review by the Food and Drug Administration.