The U.S. will donate three-quarters of the 80 million COVID-19 shots it set aside for the world through COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing partnership, while the remaining 25% will be sent to countries reeling from surges in the coronavirus.
“As long as this pandemic is raging anywhere in the world, the American people will still be vulnerable. And the United States is committed to bringing the same urgency to international vaccination efforts that we have demonstrated at home,” President Biden said in detailing his donation plan for the first time.
The Trump and Biden administrations bought more than enough supply for every American who wants a COVID-19 vaccine to get one. After an early rush, U.S. officials have been forced to beg leery Americans to get vaccinated, even as poor countries clamor for doses to boost their sluggish rollouts.
Feeling pressure to help out, Mr. Biden set aside 80 million doses for donation by the end of June. It consists of 20 million doses of vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S. and 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca version, which is not being used in the states.
“We want to save lives and thwart variants that place all of us at risk. Perhaps most important, this is just the right thing to do,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said. “We’re in a position to help others, so we will help others.”
Mr. Biden said the vaccines won’t be used to secure favors from other countries, a nod to the type of “vaccine diplomacy” being wielded by nations such as China.
Using COVAX will “maximize the number of vaccines available equitably for the greatest number of countries and for those most at-risk within countries,” the White House said. “For doses shared through COVAX, the United States will prioritize Latin America and the Caribbean, South and Southeast Asia, and Africa, in coordination with the African Union.”
The first tranche of donations will amount to 25 million doses. It will be a combination of the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson versions as the AstraZeneca vaccine sits in regulatory limbo in the U.S.
Nearly 19 million will go to COVAX, including 6 million for South America and Central America, 7 million for hard-hit Asian nations such as India and places like Thailand and Taiwan, which are seeing surges after success earlier in the pandemic. About 5 million will go to countries in the Africa Union.
The remaining 6 million will go to Mexico, Canada, South Korea, the West Bank and Gaza, Ukraine, Kosovo, Haiti, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen and U.N. front-line workers.
“Just like in the United States, we will move as expeditiously as possible, while abiding by U.S. and host country regulatory and legal requirements, to facilitate the safe and secure transport of vaccines across international borders,” the White House said. “This will take time, but the president has directed the administration to use all the levers of the U.S. government to protect individuals from this virus as quickly as possible.”
Some prominent voices criticized the plan as insufficient.
Doctors Without Borders said they were encouraged by the donations, but the allotment of 80 million doses “barely scratches the surface of what’s needed.”
“While people in the US are returning to a sense of normalcy as vaccination rates climb, people across the globe continue to live in constant fear as they’re caught in second and third waves without protection,” said Carrie Teicher, director of programs.
Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, said the plan forces the U.S. to lead from behind by relying on COVAX.
“The Chinese Communist Party is attaching strings to its garbage vaccines. The United States has the most effective vaccines, but this timid, bureaucratic response isn’t just too slow — it’s keeping us from targeting relief to nations who are getting squeezed by Beijing,” he said. “We should do better by delivering this aid ourselves — it would be faster, more effective and aligned with U.S. strategic interests.”
Mr. Sullivan said the U.S. will maintain some say in which countries get vaccines in consultation with COVAX, though overarching unions in Africa and the Caribbean will be allocated vaccines to their countries as needed.
The administration said it wanted to work within the COVAX program that many global partners are using while maintaining the discretion to direct doses to certain places.
For instance, the U.S. is sending doses to South Korea to make sure troops who work alongside American servicemen and women are vaccinated.
Mr. Sullivan insisted that efforts to help other places won’t turn into a quid pro quo where the countries trade favors and described donations to the West Bank and Gaza as a case of humanitarian aid.
“We feel that given what they are dealing with in the situation on the ground there it is only right and proper and good for the United States to actually allocate some doses to that country,” he said.
He said India received an additional discretionary amount, beyond COVAX, because it is reeling from one of the world’s worst surges.