The federal government plans to buy a half-billion extra doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine and ship them to other countries, the Washington Post and NBC News reported Wednesday, a major boost for President Joe Biden’s pledge to offer up vaccine supplies to poorer parts of the world with far lower vaccination rates than the United States.
President Joe Biden will announce the 500 million Pfizer doses — enough to fully vaccinate 250 million people — at this week’s G-7 summit in the United Kingdom, according to the Post and NBC, which cited three unnamed sources.
It’s a substantial increase from the 80 million doses Biden promised last month to send to other countries by the end of June, many of which are expected to come from the country’s stockpile of AstraZeneca doses, which haven’t been authorized for U.S. use.
Biden has also promised to pitch in $4 billion for the World Health Organization’s COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative, which aims to distribute millions of doses to poorer countries, and he’s lobbied other wealthy G-7 member countries to donate.
Forbes has reached out to Pfizer and the White House for comment.
What We Don’t Know
It’s unclear when the 500 million shots will reach patients, since many other countries are also waiting in line for supplies, with Pfizer and BioNTech working to fulfill contracts for about 1.8 billion doses. NBC reported 200 million U.S.-donated Pfizer doses will be distributed this year, and another 300 million will be sent out in early 2022.
What To Watch For
Which countries will receive the Pfizer doses? When the White House pledged 80 million shots last month, it tasked COVAX with distributing 75% of them, with the other 25% going to U.S. neighbors and countries with an immediate need for doses.
400 million. That’s how many people the United States could fully vaccinate with its existing orders from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, not including the upcoming Pfizer order, even though the country’s total adult and youth population is just 330 million.
Over 2 billion coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, but distribution is extremely uneven. Wealthier countries like the United States and the United Kingdom have given at least one vaccine shot to more than half their population, causing U.S. vaccine demand to plummet. Meanwhile, India’s vaccination rate is under 15%, and some sub-Saharan African countries have barely vaccinated any of their citizens according to data compiled by Bloomberg. COVAX was created to help fill this divide by subsidizing low- and middle-income countries’ vaccine supplies, but its leaders say they need more resources from wealthy nations.
The Biden administration has faced pressure to move faster on sending vaccine doses to other countries. Also, some members of Congress like Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) have urged Biden to give priority to U.S. allies, instead of outsourcing decisions on how to distribute doses to a third-party group like COVAX.
Tangent: China and Russia began donating millions of vaccine doses to developing nations before the United States launched its program, a “vaccine diplomacy” strategy some foreign policy experts say is designed to boost Russia and China’s reputations and earn favor with other countries.
Biden administration to buy 500 million Pfizer coronavirus vaccine doses to donate to the world (Washington Post)