The long-awaited vaccine sharing plan from the United States comes as demand for shots in the U.S. has dropped significantly — more than 63 percent of adults have received at least one dose — and as global inequities in supply have become more pronounced, AP reports.
Scores of countries have requested doses of coronavirus vaccine from the United States, but to date only Mexico and Canada have received a combined 4.5 million doses.
The U.S. also has announced plans to share enough shots with South Korea to vaccinate its 550,000 troops who serve alongside American service members on the peninsula.
White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said that 1 million Johnson & Johnson doses were being shipped to South Korea Thursday.
The U.S. has committed more than US$4 billion to Covax, but with vaccine supplies short — and wealthy nations locking up most of them — the greater need than funding has been immediate access to actual doses, to overcome what health officials have long decried as unequal access to the vaccines.
The U.S. action means “frontline workers and at-risk populations will receive potentially life-saving vaccinations” and bring the world “a step closer to ending the acute phase of the pandemic,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, Chief Executive of Gavi, which is leading the Covax alliance.
However, Tom Hart the acting CEO of The ONE Campaign, said that while Thursday’s announcement was a “welcome step, the Biden administration needs to commit to sharing more doses.
“The world is looking to the U.S. for global leadership, and more ambition is needed,” he said.
US President Joe Biden has committed to providing other nations with all 60 million U.S.-produced doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has yet to be authorized for use in America but is widely approved around the world.
The AstraZeneca doses have been held up for export by a weeks-long safety review by the Food and Drug Administration, and without them Biden will be hard pressed to meet his sharing goal.
The White House says the initial 25 million doses announced Thursday will be shipped from existing federal stockpiles of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
More doses are expected to be made available to share in the months ahead.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said via Twitter that US Vice President Kamala Harris had informed him before the White House announcement of the decision to send 1 million doses of the single jab Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“I expressed to her our appreciation in the name of the people of Mexico,” he wrote.
Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei said Harris told him the U.S. government would send his country 500,000 doses of vaccine.
As part of its purchase agreements with drug manufacturers, the U.S. controlled the initial production by its domestic manufacturers. Pfizer and Moderna are only now starting to export vaccines produced in the U.S. to overseas customers. The U.S. has hundreds of millions more doses on order, both of authorized and in-development vaccines.
The White House also announced that U.S. producers of vaccine materials and ingredients will no longer have to prioritize orders from three drugmakers working on coronavirus shots that haven’t received U.S. approval — Sanofi, Novavax and AstraZeneca — clearing the way for more materials to be shipped overseas to help production there.