WASHINGTON – President Biden, responding to widespread calls to step up his response to the outbreak of the pandemic abroad, said on Monday that his administration would send 20 million doses of the federally authorized coronavirus vaccine overseas in June – the first time he pledged to donate doses that could be used in the United States.
The donation is another step towards what Mr Biden has promised would be an “entirely new effort” to increase vaccine supply and significantly expand manufacturing capacity, most in the United States. He also tasked Jeffrey Zients, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, to develop a global strategy.
“We know America will never be completely safe until the pandemic raging around the world is under control,” Biden said during a brief appearance at the White House. “No ocean is wide enough, no wall is high enough to protect us.”
With new cases and deaths plummeting as vaccination rates rise in the United States, the epicenter of the crisis has shifted to India and other countries. A growing, bipartisan choir of diplomats, health experts and business leaders has pushed the president to do more to end what AIDS activist Asia Russell calls “vaccine apartheid.”
Mr Biden said on Monday that 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines – all approved for home use – would be sent overseas. This is in addition to the 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine he pledged last month, although those doses are not approved for home use and cannot be released until regulators deem them safe.
“It has crossed the threshold for direct giving,” said J. Stephen Morrison, a global health expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who partnered with three other health institutes on Monday to release a plan to increase vaccine supply. “This is a significant change.”
International health activists want more.
“Giving 80 million doses of vaccines without a plan to increase production worldwide is like putting a bandage on a machete wound,” said Gregg Gonsalves, a longtime AIDS activist.
Those 80 million doses were five times the number of donations from any other country, Biden said, noting that taking the initiative to help the world fight the coronavirus was a chance to reaffirm U.S. authority. And unlike Russia and China, which have sought to use their vaccines as an instrument of diplomacy, the United States will not expect any favors in return, the president said.
“We want to run the world with our values, with this demonstration of our innovation and our ingenuity, and the basic decency of the American people,” Biden said. “Just as during World War II America was the arsenal of democracy, in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic our nation will be the arsenal of vaccines for the rest of the world.”
Mr Biden’s announcement came shortly after a World Health Organization press conference in which Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries with high vaccination rates had to do more to help countries that were hit hard by the coronavirus, or the whole world would be at risk.
“There is a huge growing disconnect where in some countries with the highest vaccination rates there seems to be a mindset that the pandemic is over, while others are experiencing huge waves of infection, ”said Dr Tedros.
Variants like B.1.617, first discovered in India and recently named as a variant of concern by the WHO, are contributing to the spread of infections and worrying many researchers.
Dr Tedros called on well-supplied countries to send more of their vaccine allocations to hardest-hit countries, and vaccine developers and manufacturers to speed up delivery of hundreds of millions of doses to Covax, an international initiative dedicated to equitable distribution of the vaccine. , noting a call from Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF.
Mr Biden took office on a promise to restore the United States as a leader in global public health, and he has taken certain steps to do so: join the World Health Organization, pledge $ 4 billion dollars to an international vaccination effort and provide financial support to help Biological E, a vaccine maker in India, will produce at least one billion doses of coronavirus vaccine by the end of 2022.
To further expand the offer, Biden recently announced that he would support waiving intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines. But activists say that simply supporting the waiver is not enough; Mr Biden must create the conditions for pharmaceutical companies to transfer their intellectual property to vaccine manufacturers abroad, they say. They see his efforts as fragmentary.
“We are after 100 days in administration, and what Biden is expected to deliver is a global battle plan against vaccine apartheid, and today’s announcement is posted on a post-it” Russell said, adding, “There has to be a US-led global strategy based on technology transfer, about forcing the pharmacy to come to the table to share the recipe. “
The pharmaceutical industry opposes the waiver of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, known as TRIPS. Vaccine makers say a fix is already at hand as they aggressively expand production lines and contract with counterparts around the world to produce billions of additional doses.
An open letter to the president, made public last week by a bipartisan group comprising business leaders, diplomats and a former defense secretary, argued that such a waiver “would make little difference and could do harm.”
While global health activists are strongly in favor of the waiver, some have said they welcome views from the business community. They see clear parallels with their work in the fight against the global AIDS epidemic.
“This shows an unprecedented willingness by the pharmaceutical industry and its private sector allies to admit what we have all been saying for months – the private sector alone cannot and will not guarantee global access to vaccines.” James Krellenstein, founder of PrEP4All, is a nonprofit organization working to ensure universal access to HIV prevention and treatment, wrote in an email Sunday. “It really shifts the burden on the Biden administration,” he added.
Open letter organizer Hank Greenberg, chairman of Starr Companies and former chairman of American International Group, the insurance industry giant, said in an interview on Monday that Mr Biden’s announcement did not go far enough.
Mr Greenberg, 96, a World War II veteran, said he was inspired to write after a former managing director of an AIG affiliate, who later became the Philippine Ambassador to the United States, had told him he could not get the vaccine. Like Mr. Biden, he used language that evoked the war effort.
“If we don’t,” he asked, “who will?”