The Global VAX initiative, which the administration first outlined in December, represents the latest effort to fulfill President Biden’s wishes to help end the pandemic and restore American leadership in global health. . These goals are motivated by national security as well as humanitarian considerations. concerns; officials fear a new variant could emerge in a largely unvaccinated country and quickly circle the globe. The fast-spreading omicron variant, which has led to record levels of covid cases and hospitalizations in January, was first detected in southern Africa in November.

According to the “COVID-19 Global VAX Field Guide”, which was shared with diplomatic contacts, the United States will prioritize countries in sub-Saharan Africa – starting with Angola, Ivory Coast, Eswatini, Ghana, Lesotho, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia — to “receive intensive support” to their vaccination campaigns through in-person staff, technical assistance and more diplomatic engagement. These countries have generally vaccinated less than 40% of their population against the coronavirus, according to the Our World in Data monitoring project at the University of Oxford, but have reported increases in recent weeks that U.S. officials say show the potential for global aid.

Under the Global VAX initiative, the United States plans to spend more than half of the $510 million up for grabs for the program to boost immunization efforts in the 11 countries, which could include investments in mobile centers to administer vaccines, freezers for safe vaccine storage and other supplies , U.S. Agency for International Development officials told the Post. The initiative aims to ensure ‘punches in the arms’, as many low-income countries lack the infrastructure to safely store and administer vaccine doses that have been donated by wealthier countries and groups. global aid.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is eyeing a second group of nations — which includes Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Kenya and Malawi — as possible future partners in the vaccine program, but no has not yet made any significant commitments. “These are places we value how best to support, and thinks it has great potential medium to long term,” said Atul Gawande, USAID Assistant Administrator for Global Health, in an interview.

The administration will also continue a series of smaller investments to support vaccinations, spreading remaining Global VAX funds across dozens of countries, officials said.

“We’re really accelerating,” said USAID Executive Director Jeremy Konyndyk. covid task force. “What we’ve seen very consistently in our outreach is that countries want doses, they want to vaccinate, and when they’ve gotten the resources to do that, they’ve made good progress.”

While the United States has already shipped more than 420 million doses overseas, far more than any other country, public health experts have warned that many donated doses are not being administered quickly due to fragile infrastructure. , insufficient resources or vaccine hesitancy – problems that US officials say can largely be solved with targeted investment and diplomatic engagement.

Slow global uptake has also jeopardized the White House and World Health Organization’s goal of vaccinating 70% of the world by the middle of the year, the secretary of state acknowledged on Monday. Anthony Blinken. According to data from the University of Oxford, less than 17% of Africans have received at least one vaccine injection.

The wide vaccine access gap has been a source of anger in the Global South, with some public health officials blaming wealthier countries for stockpiling extra doses and administering boosters rather than sharing them with the developing world. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said the gap in access to vaccines amounts to “vaccine apartheid”.

USAID officials said in an interview that the 11 countries were prioritized because of the “high potential” that targeted support would lead to quick wins, citing successful pilots in several countries. For example, more than a quarter of the population of Ghana and Uganda have now received at least one coronavirus vaccine, after national vaccination rates hovered in single digits for most of 2021, an increase which officials said they hope to build and replicate in other countries.

“What this tells us is that when there is the right combination of access to vaccines, access to resources, technical support, political will and government leadership, countries can do a lot of progress,” Konyndyk said.

Partner countries will be required to share more details and data with the Biden administration on their national immunization strategies, including quarterly progress reports.

USAID officials are due to travel to Africa to support the vaccination initiative, which is led by that agency, with Gawande heading to Nigeria next week. Administrator Samantha Power is planning a trip to sub-Saharan Africa, officials said.

While some public health experts questioned the need for a new vaccination program, USAID officials said the effort would build on global health work done by other agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, better known as PEPFAR, rather than duplicating them.

“Creating Global VAX is about organizing the whole-of-government effort, not just in the 11 countries of the build-up, but everywhere we work,” Gawande said.

“You don’t want to interrupt the whole PEPFAR program or the whole malaria program to go and do vaccinations,” Konyndyk added. “The more we can extend this mission across a diversity of platforms, the more we also ease some of the burden on them and allow them to continue their core work.”

USAID officials said they were able to fund the initiative with the last remaining funds made available under the American Rescue Plan Act, a congressional stimulus package passed last year. Administration officials are weighing plans to ask Congress for additional funding for global vaccinations, with some Democrats and global health experts calling for at least $17 billion in new money.

Global health experts on Thursday praised the administration for devising a “concrete plan” that resembled strategies used to successfully tackle other global health issues, such as HIV/AIDS, but called for expand the program to more countries and secure additional funding.

“These are mainly the countries ‘within reach’ where progress is easiest to achieve and measure. The last mile — or in this case — the miles, will be even harder,” Jen Kates, who oversees global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote in an email.

“We need to grow both in breadth and depth,” said Krishna Udayakumar, director of Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Center.

Udayakumar noted that USAID has now exhausted billions of dollars in funding from congressional bailout programs. “The second phase of this needs to expand quite quickly,” he said. “It’s completely in jeopardy now, unless there’s additional funding coming.”