The U.S. sent millions of vaccine doses to Peru and Pakistan on Monday as the world reels from the delta variant of the coronavirus and President Biden steps up diplomatic efforts to thwart the pathogen before it boomerangs back on Americans.
Countries around the world are reimposing or extending lockdowns because of the fast-moving strain that has swept parts of Asia and is threatening pockets of Africa and Europe.
Experts say faster vaccination is needed. Mr. Biden is racing to donate excess doses as demand wanes in the U.S., which has fully vaccinated more than 46% of its population, in a bid to improve America’s image and prevent the virus from evolving into something even worse.
The White House is sending 2.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Peru as a direct gift and dispatching 2.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to Pakistan through COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing alliance. The announcement comes after a weekend donation of 1.5 million doses to Honduras.
Previously, the U.S. sent doses to Brazil, Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Taiwan.
Mr. Biden pledged to share 80 million doses of multiple vaccines through June and purchase 500 million doses from Pfizer for export through the first half of next year.
“Over this week we will be able to announce more places that the United States will be sending our doses,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Mr. Biden said vaccine gifts to other nations won’t come with strings attached, though the donations are a counterpunch to China, which is wielding vaccines as a conduit for business deals and diplomacy.
The American donation to Peru is notable. Peru has suffered nearly 590 deaths per 100,000 members of its population from COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins University mortality tracker.
It is by far the worst rate, above 243 per 100,000 in Brazil and 184 in the United States.
Scientists think the existing vaccines are effective against the delta variant — strong enough to at least avoid severe disease and hospitalization.
The strain, first detected in India, is likely to become dominant in the U.S. and is expected to afflict areas with poor vaccination rates. Officials say the variant is to blame for an outbreak in southwestern Missouri, and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson highlighted it as a worry.
“The delta variant is a great concern to us. We see that impacting our increasing cases and hospitalizations,” Mr. Hutchinson, a Republican, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
Other countries offer a preview of how bad it can get.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa banned gatherings of any kind for 14 days and forbid alcohol sales, restaurant dining and travel to or from the hardest-hit parts of the country.
“We have overcome two decisive waves, but now we have a new hill to climb, a great challenge, a massive resurgence of infections,” he said late Sunday.
Thailand imposed a new lockdown in Bangkok and surrounding areas, while Malaysia extended one that was supposed to ease up Monday.
Residents of Sydney face a stay-at-home order through July 9 and fines as Australia tries to stiff-arm the delta variant, after serving as a model for virus control earlier in the pandemic.
Germany, meanwhile, restricted travel from Portugal and Russia after declaring those countries to be “virus-variant zones,” and Japanese officials said Monday that Olympics athletes from delta-hit countries will be tested every day for a week.
Athletes must also avoid other people for three days after landing in Tokyo for the Summer Games, which begin July 23.