Joe Biden calls on rich countries to increase Covid-19 vaccine donations

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President Joe Biden called on other countries to help vastly expand production and availability of coronavirus vaccines and treatments in order to end the Covid-19 pandemic.

Biden hosted a virtual vaccine summit on Wednesday, coinciding with the United Nations leaders’ meetings in a bid to marshal more aid to developing nations where inoculations, treatments and supplies remain scarce. It also is a bid to counter criticism directed at the US and other wealthy countries that are planning booster shots that would reduce doses available to be shipped elsewhere.

The summit highlighted how difficult it will be to attain Biden’s goals. He called for 70% of the world to be vaccinated by this time next year but a report by an anti-poverty group says the world isn’t on pace to hit that target. Biden also called for pledges of a billion more doses, and promised 500 million more doses from the US

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan announced during the summit that his country would provide about 60 million doses “in total,” according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Biden cast the summit as a starting point, saying leaders would gather again in several months, and advocates have said the US push should be lauded. But the summit’s test will be whether the global response, and donations, will rise after months of vaccine nationalism that has steered doses overwhelmingly to rich nations.

“This is a global tragedy,” Biden said. “And we’re not going to solve this crisis with half-measures and middle-of-the-road ambitions. We need to go big and we need to do our part.”

The summit’s attendees include the leaders of the UK, Canada, South Africa and Indonesia, private-sector figures and representatives of non-governmental organizations. Biden led one of four sessions, on vaccinating the world, while Vice President Kamala Harris led another. Nearly all of it was held behind closed doors. The White House didn’t release a list of attendees.

Biden said the US will buy another 500 million doses of Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE’s vaccine for donation abroad, pushing the total US donation pledge above 1.1 billion doses. The doses will be produced in the US and be shipped through Covax, the global vaccine sharing system, to low-income and lower-middle-income countries, beginning in January and running through next September.

Biden also announced $370 million in US funding to help with vaccine administration abroad.

“Getting those vaccines into people’s arms may be the hardest logistical challenge we face,” he said. He pledged another $383 million in funding for Gavi, an agency co-leading Covax.

Administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity before the summit took place, declined to say how much the Pfizer order would cost, but said the contracting process is continuing. The doses will be provided on a not-for-profit basis, they added.

Pfizer confirmed the deal in a statement. The company plans to produce them at four plants across the US

An analysis released Wednesday by the ONE Campaign, an antipoverty advocacy group, shows that the world will fall about 1.2 billion people short of Biden’s 70% goal by next September. Biden’s 500-million-dose announcement will make a dent but not bridge the gap.

“Everyone is on the hook to agree to a global plan to get 70% of the world vaccinated. This donation gets us closer to that goal, but the US cannot do this alone, other wealthy countries must be bolder and more ambitious,” Tom Hart, ONE’s acting chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Biden also called on other countries to increase pledges of shots and to donate them, rather than sell them. “We need other high income countries to deliver on their own ambitious vaccine donations and pledges,” Biden said.

Reporters were escorted out of the summit shortly after Biden’s remarks and it wasn’t immediately clear whether any other nation pledged to donate shots. The US released, as part of the summit, a call for a billion more doses to be purchased for or donated to developing nations.

The new US commitment is on top of a 500-million-dose donation announced in June at the Group of Seven summit in the UK Distribution of those vaccines began last month. Combined with 130 million doses shipped out so far that had initially been bought for domestic use, the US donation total is now at least 1.13 billion doses, more than double the total delivered domestically.

Of those, at least 330 million have been pledged by the end of 2021. The remaining 800 million, including all of Biden’s new pledge, are to be delivered in 2022.

This is the first time that the US has set a global vaccination target, though advocates are urging more aggressive ones. The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, has called for 70% of the world to be vaccinated by the end of June, three months before Biden’s timeline.

“In some ways June and September are just too late,” said Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA Network, a non-profit group. He gave the US credit for hosting the summit. “We’re so excited that they are taking leadership on this, because there is unfortunately a leadership void, but we needed to get all this done yesterday,” he said.

Doctors Without Borders welcomed Biden’s pledge but said it’s not enough to end the pandemic and will arrive too late — and urged him to donate more excess supply now.

“It’s unfathomable that millions more people are going to die waiting for vaccines just because of where they live,” the organization’s director of programs, Carrie Teicher, said in a statement. She added that the US must help bolster global vaccine production.

The summit comes as the US prepares to begin giving booster shots to millions of Americans, a step that health advocates warn will divert vaccines and increase inequities among nations.

Harris announced that the US would contribute at least $250 million to jump-start a new Global Health Security Financial Intermediary Fund, aimed at funding pandemic preparedness. Biden also set a goal of testing one out of every 1,000 people per day by the end of this year in all countries.

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