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COVID: Biden pledges donation of 500 million vaccine doses

June 10, 2021

US President Joe Biden has called on global leaders to share COVID vaccines with the developing world. He said the United States would become the "arsenal of vaccines" to help poorer nations to beat coronavirus.

Biden in front of an American flag with a G7 logo
President Biden said the vaccine will be provided with no strings attachedImage: Toby Melville/Reuters

US President Joe Biden on Thursday pledged 500 million doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to developing nations.

Biden made the announcement while taking to reporters after meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of the G7 Summit in Cornwall. 

Biden said that vaccinating the rest of the world was the only way to end the pandemic for good.

"From the beginning of my presidency, we have been clear-eyed. We need to attack this virus globally as well," Biden said in a televised speech. 

Biden: US to donate 500 million vaccine doses to poor countries

"This is about our responsibility our humanitarian obligation to save as many lives as we can.

"In these times of need, the US needs to step up and help and lead."

Biden said the United States would be "the arsenal of vaccines" to help poorer countries.

Biden urges G7 to join in donating jabs

Biden's pledge would make the United States the world's biggest donor to COVAX, a UN scheme to distribute jabs to the developing world.

He said that his fellow G7 leaders would join him in offering more doses to those who need them.

British Prime Minister Johnson wrote in the Times of London newspaper that wealthy countries should "shoulder their responsibilities" and "vaccinate the world", while French President Emmanuel Macron has joined Biden in calling for vaccine patents to be waived in a bid to make production cheaper.

Macron called Washington's offer "great news'' and urged other governments to follow their lead.

"I think the European Union needs to have at least the same level of ambition as the United States,'' he told journalists.

COVAX has thus far distributed just 81 million doses and several parts of the world, particularly Africa, are short on supplies.

A coronavirus vaccination station in South Sudan
Africa trails much of the developed world in terms of vaccination coverageImage: Andreea Campeanu/Getty Images

Officials at the World Health Organization, a UN body that coordinates health policy, say that vaccination coverage in much of the continent stands at between 1-2%.

Charities react to Biden's announcement

Speaking to DW, professor Jap Boum II, from the Epicenter Africa organization linked to Doctors Without Borders, said the pledge from Biden left him and colleagues with mixed feelings. 

"It sounds like good news. We have a mixed feeling between the good news of having a donation — six months after the Western countries have started vaccination — but also it's like keep on giving us fish while we actually need to learn how to fish ourselves," Boum said. 

He said it would be more effective to bolster the research and manufacturing capabilities in Africa itself: 

"That's how we'll be able to produce our own vaccine, not only for COVID, but for all the other diseases that are affecting our continent."

NGOs have been campaigning for Western nations to do more to share vaccines with the world.

Tom Hart, acting CEO at The ONE Campaign, a nonprofit that seeks to end poverty, said Biden's pledge was "the kind of bold leadership that is needed to end this global pandemic.'' `

"We urge other G7 countries to follow the US' example and donate more doses to COVAX,'' he added.

But Niko Lusiani of Oxfam America warned that "charity is not going to win the war against the coronavirus."

"At the current rate of vaccinations, it would take low-income countries 57 years to reach the same level of protection as those in G7 countries.

"That's not only morally wrong, it's self-defeating given the risk posed by coronavirus mutations," he said.

Biden last month broke with European allies to endorse waiving intellectual property rules at the World Trade Organization to promote vaccine production and equity.

But many in his own administration acknowledge that the restrictions were not the driving cause of the global vaccine shortage, which has more to do with limited manufacturing capacity and shortages of delicate raw materials.

jf/msh (AP, Reuters)