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June 4, 2021

The White House will donate 25M Covid-19 vaccine doses worldwide. Is it enough?

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    President Joe Biden's administration on Thursday announced it will donate 25 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to other nations, as the pandemic rages in low- and middle-income countries with low vaccination rates.

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    Where the donated doses will go

    According to the White House, 75% of the 25 million donated doses will be donated via COVAX, the global vaccine aid program.

    The doses donated through COVAX will be allocated to the following areas:

    • Approximately seven million doses to Asian countries, including India, Nepal, and Bangladesh;
    • Approximately six million doses to South and Central American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia;
    • Approximately six million doses to "regional priorities and partner recipients," including Canada, Mexico, and the Republic of Korea; and
    • Approximately five million doses to African countries that will be selected "in coordination with the African Union."

    Meanwhile, the remaining 25% distributed outside of COVAX will go to "countries in need, those experiencing surges, immediate neighbors, and other countries that have requested immediate U.S. assistance."

    Specifically, the donations will be prioritized to countries focusing on vaccinating frontline health care workers and other individuals at high risk of severe Covid-19, the White House said.

    The vaccines donated will comes from the United States' stockpile of vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. Biden has separately promised to donate 60 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca, but those doses have yet to be cleared by FDA, according to Jeff Zients, White House Covid-19 response coordinator.

    In a statement, Biden said the vaccines will not be donated "to secure favors or extract concessions." Rather, they are being donated "to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values."

    What the donation means for the pandemic

    The announcement comes as the pandemic rages in low- and middle-income countries around the world.

    According to data from Johns Hopkins University, countries including Argentina, Colombia, and Paraguay are facing especially intense waves of Covid-19 cases, and a surge in parts of Africa has led the World Health Organization to warn of a potential continent-wide "third wave."

    Meanwhile, according to data from the University of Oxford's Our World in Data project, in some African countries less than 1% of the population have received any vaccine doses, and in Honduras and Guatemala, the rate is just 3%.

    Some critics have argued that the United States should take steps beyond donating vaccine doses to fight the pandemic beyond its borders. For instance, Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program, said on Thursday the Biden administration should invest $25 billion in "urgent public vaccine manufacturing at sites worldwide" to make eight billion doses of mRNA vaccines within the next year, and to "share those vaccine recipes with the world."

    Zients said the Biden administration knows that its vaccine donation "won't be enough to end or reduce the lifespan of the pandemic, and that's why we're working with allies and partners to expand the production of vaccines and raw materials."

    "We will work as expeditiously as possible," National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said. "This is certainly a complex operational challenge but one that we will take on. Our goal is in service of ending the pandemic globally. We want to save lives and thwart variants that place all of us at risk. Most important, this is just the right thing to do" (Banco, Politico, 6/3; Stolberg, New York Times, 6/3; Rummler, Axios, 6/3; White House fact sheet, 6/3).

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