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Biden: US will share 1 billion COVID vaccine doses

Zeke Miller
The Associated Press

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that the United States is doubling its purchase of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots to share with the world to 1 billion doses as he embraces the goal of vaccinating 70% of the global population within the next year.

The stepped-up U.S. commitment marks the cornerstone of the global vaccination summit Biden convened virtually on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, where he encouraged well-off nations to do more to get the coronavirus under control. It comes as world leaders, aid groups and global health organizations have grown increasingly vocal about the slow pace of global vaccinations and the inequity of access to shots between residents of wealthier and poorer nations.

“Global health secur­ity until now has failed, to the tune of 4.5 million lives, and counting,” UN Secretary General António Guterres told the summit, referring to the confirmed global death toll from the coronavirus. “We have effective vaccines against COVID-19. We can end the pandemic. And that is why I have been appealing for a global vaccination plan and I hope this summit is a step in that direction.”

The U.S. purchase of another 500 million shots brings the total U.S. vaccination commitment to more than 1.1 billion doses through 2022. About 160 million shots supplied by the U.S. have already been distributed to more than 100 countries, representing more donations than the rest of the world combined. The remaining American doses will be distributed over the coming year.

“To beat the pandemic here, we need to beat it everywhere,” Biden said. He added that with the new commitments, “For every one shot we’ve administered to date in America, we have now committed to do three shots to the rest of the world.”

More needed: The latest purchase reflects only a fraction of what will be necessary to meet a goal of vaccin­ating 70% of the global population — and 70% of the citizens of each nation — by next September’s U.N. meeting. It’s a target pushed by global aid groups that Biden threw his weight behind.

Biden is pressing other countries to do more in their vaccine sharing plans.

“We need other high income countries to deliver on their own ambitious vaccine donations and pledges,” Biden said. He called on wealthy countries to commit to donating, rather than selling, the shots to poorer nations, and to provide them “with no political strings attached.”

The European Union committed to donating 500 million doses — a slight increase from its earlier announced plans — according to a joint statement between the bloc and the U.S.

“We call for nations that are able to vaccinate their populations to double their dose-sharing commitments or to make meaningful contributions to vaccine readiness,” the statement said.

They also committed to working with the U.S. to bolster global vaccine supply.

Biden, in his remarks, said the U.S. would also increase its funding to global aid groups that are administering shots.

Criticism: The American response has come under criticism for being too modest, particularly as the administration advocates for providing booster shots to tens of millions of Americans before vulnerable people in poorer nations have received even a first dose.

More than 5.9 billion COVID-19 doses have been administered globally over the past year, representing about 43% of the global population. But there are vast disparities in distribution, with many lower-income nations struggling to vaccinate even the most vulnerable share of their populations, and some yet to exceed 2% to 3% vaccination rates.

The World Health Organization says only 15% of promised donations of vaccines — from rich countries that have access to large quantities of them — have been delivered. The U.N. health agency has said it wants countries to fulfill dose-sharing pledges “immediately” and make shots available for programs that benefit poor countries and Africa in particular.

COVAX, the U.N.-backed program to ship vaccines to all countries has struggled with production issues, supply shortages and a near-cornering of the market for vaccines by wealthy nations.