The US is buying a further 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to donate to other countries, bringing its total commitment to over a billion jabs, President Joe Biden has announced.
“To beat the pandemic here, we need to beat it everywhere,” Mr Biden said. “For every one shot we’ve administered to date in America, we have now committed to do three shots to the rest of the world.”
The purchase of a further 500 million shots from Pfizer brings the total US vaccination commitment to more than 1.1 billion doses through 2022.
Speaking during a four-hour virtual summit at the White House, held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Mr Biden urged other world leaders to do more to combat the pandemic globally.
“We need other high income countries to deliver on their own ambitious vaccine donations and pledges,” he said.
He backed up his words with plans to donate $370m to help administer vaccines globally, and another $380m will be used to assist the Global Vaccine Alliance to further distribute jabs to regions with the greatest need.
He called on wealthy countries to commit to donating, rather than selling the shots to poorer nations, and to provide them “with no political strings attached”.
To this end, he also announced the launch of an EU-US COVID vaccine partnership to allow closer collaboration.
The US and EU are calling for wealthy nations to double their donation commitments or make “meaningful contributions to vaccine readiness”, according to a joint statement.
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The EU Commission followed Mr Biden’s lead and announced that the bloc would donate 500 million doses “in addition to the doses we have financed through COVAX” – the UN-backed program to share doses internationally.
The event was attended by leaders from Canada, Indonesia, South Africa and Britain, among others, as well as World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who called the pandemic an “all hands on deck crisis”.
The US has already shipped 160 million doses to more than 100 other nations – more donations than the rest of the world combined.
However, global health experts say the commitment is far short of the five to six billion doses needed to reach a goal of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population by next September.
More than 5.9 billion COVID-19 doses have been administered globally over the past year, representing about 43% of the global population.
But there are vast disparities in distribution, with many lower-income nations struggling to vaccinate even the most vulnerable share of their populations, and some yet to exceed 2% to 3% vaccination rates.
The WHO said only 15% of promised donations of vaccines have been delivered and wants countries to fulfil their dose-sharing pledges “immediately”, making jabs available for programs that benefit poor countries and Africa in particular.
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The delivery of jabs has been hampered by issues with COVAX, including production issues, supply shortages, and wealthy nations stockpiling vaccines.
The agency has failed to reach nearly all of its vaccine-sharing targets. An original target to ship some two billion vaccine doses worldwide by the end of the year has been lowered to 1.4 billion.
This could still be missed. As of Tuesday, COVAX had shipped more than 296 million doses to 141 countries.
Since the pandemic began in early 2020, at least 4,913,000 people have died from coronavirus.