US Raises Covid Vaccine Donation Pledge
Up to now, Washington had committed to donating 580 million doses, but has stepped this up to more than 1.1 billion. Reports said that only around 160 million of the lower number have been delivered to date – to some 100 countries – but this represents more than the total the rest of the world combined has pledged.
In connection with the summit, the European Commission also increased its commitment and is now planning to donate 500 million doses. Canada recently said it would donate all 10 million doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine that it purchased and hadn’t used but were due to expire.
Early last spring, amid a shortage of vaccine even in the developed world, the Biden administration agreed to “loan” doses of the AstraZeneca shot, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved, to Canada and Mexico. More recently, it said it would purchase doses from Pfizer/BioNTech at cost to donate to poorer countries.
The newly promised volumes to be made in Pfizer's US facilities will be delivered to 92 low- and lower-middle-income countries and the 55 member states of the African Union by the end of September 2022, the American-German alliance said in a statement.
Some groups that help distribute vaccines to poor countries said this was far from enough and a year from now was much too late, while others criticized the choice of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, due to the need for special refrigeration.
While Biden said he supports the goal of vaccinating 70% of the global population within the next year, the World Health Organzation (WHO) said the latest US pledge reflects only a fraction of the estimated 11 billion doses needed.
More than 5.9 billion Covid vacine doses are counted as having been administered globally over the past year, to about 43% of the global population, but there are wide gaps in distribution. According to the WHO, only 15% of donations promised by wealthy countries have been delivered so far.
Covax, the UN-backed program to distribute donated vaccines, continues to struggle with production issues and supply shortages, some of which it blames on hoarding by rich nations. The program’s management has now lowered its target to be shipped this year from 2 billion doses to 1.4 billion, and even that is said to look doubtful. As of last week, the program had shipped 296 million doses to 141 countries, news reports said.
The WHO has urged vaccine makers to prioritize Covax and publish their supply schedules. It also has called on developed countries such as the US to forego a broad rollout of booster shots so that vulnerable people in the developing world can be vaccinated. Rich nations could have 1.2 billion spare doses by the end of the year, even if they run booster campaigns, according to science analytics firm Airfinity. But it said 241 million could go to waste not donated soon.
Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist