WASHINGTON – The Biden administration in April announced plans to share millions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine with the world by the end of June.
Nations around the world are still waiting – with growing impatience – to know where the vaccines will go and how they will be distributed.
For President Joe Biden, the doses represent a modern-day “arsenal of democracy”, serving as the ultimate carrot for America’s partners abroad, but also as a necessary tool for global health, capable of saving lives. millions of lives and restore some semblance of normalcy to friends and foes alike.
The central question for Biden: how much of the dose should be provided to those who need it most, and how much should be reserved for American partners?
So far, the answer seems to be that the administration will provide the bulk of the doses to COVAX, the United Nations-backed global vaccine-sharing program aimed at meeting the needs of low-income countries. While the percentage is yet to be finalized, it would mark a substantial – and immediate – boost to the lagging effort of COVAX, which to date has only shared 76 million doses with countries in need. .
The Biden administration plans to reserve about a quarter of the doses in the United States for distribution directly to individual nations of its choice.
The growing stockpile of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States is seen not only as a testament to American ingenuity, but also its global privilege.
More than 50% of Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and more than 135 million are fully vaccinated, helping to reduce the rate of cases and deaths in the United States to the lowest level since the early days of the pandemic .
Dozens of countries have requested doses from the United States, but only Mexico and Canada have obtained them, receiving a total of 4.5 million doses. The United States has also announced plans to share enough snapshots with South Korea to vaccinate its 550,000 troops serving alongside the US military on the peninsula.
The broader US partition plan is still being finalized, said a White House official, who has been the subject of political debate in the White House and across the federal government, and also involving COVAX and other external stakeholders such as drug manufacturers and logistics experts.
“Our nation is going to be the arsenal of vaccines for the rest of the world,” Biden said on May 17 when he announced the United States’ pledge to share more doses.
The president said that, compared to other countries like Russia and China that have sought to leverage their domestically produced doses, “We will not use our vaccines to gain favor from other countries.” .
Yet the partnership with the South Korean military underscores the ability of the United States to use its vaccine stockpile for the benefit of some of its more affluent allies. It was not clear whether South Korea would pay its doses to the United States. Most of the other doses had to be given.
Samantha Power, the new USAID administrator, provided the first indication of the likely allocation in testimony on Capitol Hill, telling the Senate Appropriations Committee that “75% of the doses we share will likely be shared through COVAX. Twenty-five percent of our oversupply that we donate will be set aside so that it can be deployed bilaterally. “
Administration officials have warned that Biden has yet to approve the precise breakdown and that may change yet. The White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the administration would work to synchronize its supplies with global vaccine sharing organizations.
Biden has pledged to supply other countries with the 60 million domestically produced doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The president also pledged to share 20 million doses of the existing production of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine stocks. It is expected that more doses will be available for sharing in the coming months.
Under its agreements with drug manufacturers, the United States controlled the initial production of its domestic manufacturers. Pfizer and Moderna are only now starting to export vaccines produced in the United States. The United States has hundreds of millions of additional doses on order, both licensed vaccines and in development.
The Biden administration has also pledged $ 4 billion to COVAX, led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization, to help it purchase and distribute vaccines. COVAX has pledged to share doses with more than 90 countries, many with which the United States has a turbulent relationship.
Even though the bulk of the doses shared by the United States are distributed through COVAX, Power told senators: “People will be very clear that these are American doses that come from American ingenuity and the generosity of the American people.