US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his administration's Covid-19 response in Washington, the US, June 2 2021. Picture: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his administration's Covid-19 response in Washington, the US, June 2 2021. Picture: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA

The US government will send 25-million Covid-19 vaccine doses to foreign countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America, the first time the Biden administration has shared shots it could have used at home.

Through the World Health Organization-backed Covax programme, the US plans to distribute 6-million shots to Central and South America, 7-million to Asia including hard-hit India and 5-million to Africa, the White House said in a statement.

The US will directly send another 6-million shots to places including Mexico, Canada, South Korea and the Palestinian territories, the White House said. Overall, the White House plans to send 75% of its total donated doses to the Covax program.

“As the days get brighter and brighter at home, we’re focused on driving progress to help the pandemic around the globe,” White House Covid-19 response co-ordinator Jeff Zients said at a briefing Thursday.

The move is a watershed moment for the US, which secured the first hundreds of millions of doses made on its soil for domestic use but intends to be an engine of vaccine production globally.

As vaccine demand wanes at home, President Joe Biden is facing calls internationally to release the American stockpile of shots made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to curb the rise of coronavirus variants against which existing vaccines might provide less protection.

Zients said the 25-million vaccines to be released first will be comprised of shots from Pfizer, Moderna and J&J.

The Covax donations will go to dozens of countries across Central America, South America, Asia and Africa including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Brazil and Argentina, along with India.

Recipients of the 6-million doses sent directly also will include Ukraine, Kosovo, Haiti, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, according to the White House. The US will retain control of where the shots donated to Covax are ultimately distributed, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in the briefing.

The so-called Northern Triangle nations of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras will receive Covax doses, while Mexico will receive doses directly from the US Vice-President Kamala Harris will visit the region next week and called the leaders of Mexico, Guatemala and India about the vaccine distribution plan before Thursday’s announcement, her office said.

Administration officials have consulted with vaccine manufacturers and international organisations on aspects of the operation, including transportation logistics and legal requirements, one person familiar with the plans said.

Thursday’s announcement included a framework to distribute shots among countries based on need. Biden has said his administration will donate 80-million doses by the end of this month, including 60-million that aren’t yet available for use.

Nonetheless, the move is a sign of a cresting wave of American vaccine production poised to meet world demand. The gap between US doses delivered and actually administered has risen to 70-million — much of which are in various stages of distribution. But the figure is an indication of the US glut Biden has to work with.

Another 60-million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine remains on US shelves, despite Biden’s repeated promises to export them. That shot has not been authorised for US use and is still under review by the Food and Drug Administration.

In addition to the Biden administration’s plans to begin sharing doses it bought, Pfizer and Moderna have both begun filling international orders from US plants that previously supplied only the US government.

Harris is set to meet the leaders of Mexico and Guatemala next week on a trip through the region. Mexico and other countries have publicly asked the US to share its vaccines, and some European allies had criticised Biden for hoarding US production.

Next week, the president will leave for his first international trip, a series of stops in Europe including meetings of the Group of 7 nations, Nato and the EU. A summit in Geneva with Russian President Vladimir Putin is also planned.

In the US, 297-million doses of vaccines have been administered so far. In the past week, an average of 1.1-million doses per day were administered, down significantly from just several weeks ago.

Biden has said he will not use US vaccines as a diplomatic tool, after accusing China and Russia of leveraging doses of their vaccines for foreign policy gains.

Bloomberg

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