US to send 25 million doses of coronavirus vaccine abroad

Iraq, Egypt and Palestine are among those that will receive vaccines

(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 14, 2021 Moderna vaccines are seen kept on the table at a Covid-19 vaccine at Florida Memorial University Vaccination Site in Miami Gardens, Florida. US authorities eager to get people vaccinated against Covid-19 have offered inducements ranging from free beer to million-dollar lottery prizes, and now rock concert promoters have their own twist: whopping ticket discounts. / AFP / CHANDAN KHANNA

The US government will send 25 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America, the White House said on Thursday.

Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan and Yemen are among the US allies and partners that will receive some of the six million doses directly from the US, out of the first 25 million doses that will be sent globally.

The other 19 million will be sent through the World Health Organisation-backed Covax programme, the White House said.

Through Covax, the US plans to distribute six million shots to Central and South America, seven million to Asia, including hard-hit India, and five million to Africa.

The US will send another six million doses directly to countries including Mexico, Canada and South Korea, the White House said.

“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 on Thursday.

The move is a watershed moment for the US, which first secured several hundred million doses of vaccines made on its own soil for domestic use, but now intends to be an engine of global vaccine production.

As demand wanes at home, Mr Biden is facing international calls to release the American stockpile of shots made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to curb the rise of coronavirus variants, against which existing vaccines may provide less protection.

Mexico and other countries have publicly asked the US to share vaccines, and some European countries have criticised Mr Biden for hoarding US production.

Mr Zients said the 25 million vaccines to be released first will consist of shots from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

The US will retain control of where the shots donated to Covax are ultimately distributed, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said.

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 her office said she had discussed the vaccine distribution plan with the leaders of Mexico, Guatemala and India before Thursday’s announcement.

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"Strong American leadership is essential to ending this pandemic now, and to strengthening global health security for tomorrow – to better prevent, detect, and respond to the next threat. The United States will be the world's arsenal of vaccines in our shared fight against this virus."

Administration officials have consulted with vaccine makers and international organisations on aspects of the operation, including logistics and legal requirements, a source said.

Thursday’s announcement included a framework to distribute shots among countries based on need.

The move is a sign of a cresting wave of American vaccine production poised to meet world demand.

Mr Biden has said his administration will donate 80 million doses by the end of this month, including 60 million that are not yet available for use.

The gap between US doses delivered and actually administered has risen to 70 million, many of which are in various stages of distribution. But the figure is an indication of the glut Mr Biden has to work with.

Another 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine remain on US shelves, despite Mr Biden’s repeated promises to export them.

That vaccine 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, Pfizer and Moderna have begun filling international orders from US plants that previously only supplied the government.

Next week, the president will leave for his first international trip: a series of stops in Europe including meetings of the Group of Seven 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 a day were administered, down significantly from several weeks ago.

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

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric welcomed the US donation and urged more rich nations to “share as much as possible”.

“It is far short of what is needed, so we hope that others will follow suit,” Mr Dujarric said.

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