President Biden prodded wealthy nations Thursday to contribute a fair share of COVID-19 vaccines to the world after the U.S. set a high bar for the Group of Seven nations gathered in England, pledging to buy and donate 500 million doses of the “extremely effective” Pfizer-BioNTech version for the poorest nations.
The $3.5 billion U.S. purchase is the largest donation of COVID-19 vaccines by a single country and will stretch into the next year, with 200 million set for delivery this year and 300 million in the first half of 2022.
“This is a monumental commitment by the American people. We’re a nation full of people who step up in times of need,” Mr. Biden said in an outdoor speech from St. Ives in Cornwall.
But, he added, “we’re not alone in this endeavor.”
Mr. Biden said he expects the G-7 to outline a comprehensive plan Friday to vaccinate the world. A draft communique viewed by Bloomberg News said the group is looking to offer up 1 billion doses by 2022 in a bid to end the pandemic.
The administration will use the second $2 billion of the $4 billion it previously pledged to COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing alliance, to pay for the Pfizer donations alongside $1.5 billion from Mr. Biden’s coronavirus relief package.
Senior administration officials said they will ensure that receiving nations have the cold-chain storage and other capabilities to get doses from the plane into people’s arms.
The push comes amid intense pressure on the U.S. and other wealthy nations to help low-income countries get vaccinated.
The coronavirus has killed 3.7 million people globally and has shown an ability to mutate quickly into new variants, so there is a push to stamp it out everywhere.
“Our values call on us to do everything we can to vaccinate the world against COVID-19,” Mr. Biden said. “There’s a risk of new mutations that could threaten our people.”
Mr. Biden said the vaccines will be donated with no strings attached, though Sen. Ben Sasse — who praised the announcement — said it would be wise to distinguish the gifts from Chinese vaccines with questionable efficacy.
“We should move quickly to share these life-saving shots with friends in Asia and across the developing world with a simple message: Uncle Sam, not Chairman Xi [Jinping], cares about your health,” the Nebraska Republican said.
The administration also portrayed the donation as a triumph of American manufacturing. The doses will be produced at five U.S. sites employing thousands in Kalamazoo, Michigan; McPherson, Kansas; Chesterfield, Missouri; Andover, Massachusetts; and Groton, Connecticut. The four facilities will employ around 7,500 people.
Mr. Biden said wealthier countries are ahead in the global vaccine push, with 64% of American adults receiving at least one shot. Daily case counts are averaging below 15,000 for the first time since March 2020.
“Americans know firsthand the tragedies of this pandemic,” Mr. Biden said. “We know the tragedy. We also know the path to recovery.”
A full course of the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, so 500 million is enough to vaccinate 250 million people.
The donation comes on top of a previous commitment to send 80 million U.S.-controlled doses overseas by the end of June.
Oxfam, a charity association that fights global poverty, called the new pledge a welcome development but said it remains a “drop in the bucket” compared to global need.
“It’s encouraging to see that in its quest to get America vaccinated, the Biden administration has not lost sight of the needs of those outside our borders. However, charity is not going win the war against the coronavirus,” said Niko Lusiani, Oxfam America’s vaccine lead.
Mr. Lusiani also called for relaxing patent and property-rights rules, which would allow poorer countries to make the vaccines themselves, a step that the first-world countries and corporations that developed the drugs have been reluctant to make.
“It’s time to let the world help itself. Rather than more lucrative transactions with very profitable pharmaceutical corporations, we need a transformation toward more distributed vaccine manufacturing so that qualified producers worldwide can produce billions more low-cost doses on their own terms, without intellectual property constraints,” he said.
Mr. Biden backed a patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines but Europe pushed back and offered a more limited counterproposal to the World Trade Organization, leaving the idea in limbo.
The Pfizer vaccine was the first one approved for emergency use in the U.S. — in December, during the Trump administration.
Its messenger RNA technology uses a snippet of genetic code that teaches the body to create imposters of the coronavirus’s spike protein, so the body knows how to fight the real thing.
It’s proven effective against the original strain of the coronavirus and known variants, yet poorer countries reeling from mutations haven’t had much access to the mRNA shots.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, who joined Mr. Biden in Cornwall, said the company is testing its vaccine on children and eyeing dangerous variants in case it must fine-tune booster shots.
“We will be relentless in pursuing more solutions to end the pandemic,” he said.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.