The American citizen Joe Biden has spoken a lot about America's re-emergence as a world leader since he took office during a global pandemic. On Thursday, while delivering an address at the G7 summit in the UK during his first foreign visit as president, Biden is set to lay out a deal to back up that lofty rhetoric with action.
According to the White House, Biden will announce that the U.S. has donated 500 million doses of the Pfizer - BioNTech COVID 19 vaccine to 92 low and lower Middle Income countries. Two hundred million doses will be distributed this year and the remaining 300 million in the first half of 2022.
'The objective of today's donation is to end lives and save the pandemic, the White House said in a statement. It said that 'additional action' would be announced in the coming days.
The vaccine will be manufactured in the Pfizer facilities in Massachusetts, Kansas, Missouri and Michigan and distributed through COVAX, the global initiative on vaccine equity backed by the World Health Organization.
The move marks a clean break from Donald Trump's predecessor, Biden, who regularly lambasted these types of international institutions. 'It shows that we are taking a leadership role and that's been very badly missing, says Chris Skopec, executive vice president of Project HOPE, a humanitarian and global health organization. We are one of the largest manufacturing countries in the world when it comes to vaccines. We have the most resources on the market to help produce this project.
For months, public health experts have been pressured by the Biden Administration to take a bigger role in the global vaccination effort. While parts of life are slowly returning to normal in the U.S. where more than half of the adult population is now fully vaccinated, other countries continue to suffer. Just one month ago, India, where under 4% of the population has been vaccinated, was seeing record-high tolls of over 4,000 deaths per day. The countries with some of the world's lowest GDPs, including Haiti, Gambia and Mozambique, have vaccinated less than 1% of their population, according to Johns Hopkins University data and in a handful of other low-income countries including Afghanistan, not a single person has been vaccinated.
'The needs are endless, says Skopec. The scale of this in the world is incredible.
This glaring discrepancy, which has come into sharp focus in recent weeks, has placed increasing pressure on the Biden Administration to come up with a plan to distribute America's surplus of vaccines to countries in need. But public health experts have long argued that a global recovery is predicated on a full domestic one and that inequitable vaccination distribution amplifies the risks of a variant that could evade immunization.
'Thankfully, we haven't seen those variants of course says Dr. Krishna Udayakumar, founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center. But it's really a matter of time. There are also strong economic incentives for the administration to ramp up distribution, says Udayakumar. 'We know global growth and recovery will not be as strong if there's not a strong economic recovery associated with it.
While this urgency was clearly shared by some Biden administration officials heading into the G 7 summit, there has been an ongoing debate within Biden's national security team over how much sovereignty the U.S. should take over the global pandemic according to a senior administrator. What will be the chance of Americas reversing global pandemic? What's needed, says the official who is arguing internally for the U.S. to take a more global leadership role in smothering the virus. As we get a handle on the pandemic at home, it's just critical.
Before this week the Biden administration was taking a more gradual approach. In February, the Administration announced its intended allocation of $4 billion to COVAX. In April, it said it would distribute 60 million doses of unused AstraZeneca vaccine while awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration. And by the end of June, it has promised to distribute a further 80 million surplus doses.
So far, public health experts have been dissatisfied with these efforts and saying that the richest world would be doing more. 'While these are good steps, they are quite small relative to the size of the need and also not quite meeting the urgency of the situation, says Udayakumar.
After hearing about the Pfizer deal, Skopec was optimistic and adamant that more could be done. Showing this level of leadership is a good start, but that is all it is — a start, said Skopec. 'Chose 50 million vaccines is not enough. It needs to be a pipeline, it needs to be something that we keep committing towards.