U.S. to Donate 500 Million Covid-19 Vaccine Doses to Lower-Income Countries. Who is Paying for it?

Biden administration to donate the Pfizer doses this year and next through Covax initiative

 

(Acting) President Biden’s administration plans to donate 500 million coronavirus vaccine doses produced by Pfizer Inc. to the rest of the world, according to people familiar with the plans.

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE confirmed their part of the deal early Thursday, saying 200 million doses would go to other countries this year and 300 million in the first half of next year. The government has the option for additional doses in 2022, the companies said.

White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients and his team negotiated the deal to buy the doses from Pfizer over the past four weeks, one of the people said. All of those doses will be donated through Covax, the global initiative to help vaccinate developing countries, and they will go to 92 lower-income countries and the African Union.

Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, declined to elaborate on the plans, telling reporters traveling aboard Air Force One that Mr. Biden would make the announcement on Thursday at the Group of Seven summit in the U.K.

Global vaccine diplomacy is expected to be a top issue at the gathering amid outbreaks in countries such as India and Brazil and as many developing countries struggle to inoculate their populations. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on G-7 leaders to commit to vaccinating the entire world by the end of 2022.

The administration is seeking to expand the U.S. government’s role in global vaccinations, following some initial criticism from international aid groups and congressional lawmakers that it was moving too slowly to share supply with other countries.

Spokespeople for Gavi, one of the international health organizations that is leading Covax, and the World Health Organization didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The deal brings the total number of Pfizer doses purchased by the U.S. to 800 million. The new deal prices the doses at a not-for-profit cost, and is separate from earlier supply deals that priced them at $19.50, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla is scheduled to appear with Mr. Biden when the president announces the new deal, according to this person.

The plan expands on an earlier commitment made by the administration to share 80 million doses by the end of June, which Mr. Biden characterized as a first step toward ramping up global vaccinations.

The White House said roughly 75% of those vaccines would be shared through Covax, which has struggled with supply, and the remaining 25% will be distributed to countries where cases are surging and to neighbors, as well as to partners who requested assistance from the U.S. government.

Of the first batch shared, the biggest chunk of doses will go to South and Central American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, and Guatemala; countries in Asia, including India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka; and to Africa, with countries that will be selected in coordination with the African Union. Roughly six million doses will go to partners and regional priorities such as Mexico, Canada, South Korea, the West Bank and Gaza, and United Nations front-line workers.

Pfizer, which expects to produce three billion doses this year and at least four billion next year, has said it is working on expanding access to developing nations. The New York-based drugmaker recently pledged to provide two billion doses to low-income and middle-income countries over the next 18 months, with half of it coming by the end of this year. It also has agreed to provide 40 million doses to Covax this year for distribution, which have begun to reach more than a dozen countries, Pfizer has said.

Developing countries face a big gap in vaccine supply this summer. Covax has appealed for rich nations to donate 250 million doses by the end of September and one billion doses by the end of the year. The devastating second wave of the pandemic in India, the main source of vaccines for Covax, has meant that it has stopped exports.

The WHO along with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization have called for $50 billion to be donated to enable developing countries to pull out of the pandemic at the same time as advanced economies. The doses and financing requirements are expected to be pressed at the G-7, including by the leaders of South Africa and India, who will be attending the summit.

Global public-health and finance officials warn that without assistance on this scale, developing countries will be left dealing with a prolonged pandemic, with continued loss of livelihoods and lives. That holds risks too for the West, with the danger of new variants emerging from places that still suffer from high circulation of the virus.

ONE, a group campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable diseases, praised the Biden administration’s decision to donate the vaccines.

“This action sends an incredibly powerful message about America’s commitment to helping the world fight this pandemic and the immense power of U.S. global leadership,” the group said.

Widespread vaccinations in richer nations such as the U.S. and U.K. have contributed to falls in cases and deaths, enabling a rebound in economic activity. While 42% of Americans are now fully vaccinated, the proportion in Africa is less than 1%, according to Our World in Data, a project of Oxford University.

In addition to joining Covax, the Biden administration has backed a waiver to lift intellectual property protections on Covid-19 vaccines in an attempt to help developing countries spur production. That endorsement has drawn pushback from the pharmaceutical industry and some European leaders.

Nations at the WTO on Wednesday agreed to start negotiations over the waiver proposal. They will also consider a rival plan from the European Union that would keep intellectual property protections intact while seeking to increase the production of vaccines. The EU was joined by the U.K., Switzerland, and South Korea in opposing the waiver. Delegates agreed to try to strike a deal within six weeks, a timetable considered highly ambitious by trade experts.

 

 

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