President Biden Takes 1st Tentative Steps to Address Global Covid-19 Vaccine Shortage

WASHINGTON – President Biden was under heavy pressure on Friday to donate excess coronavirus vaccines to nations in need to otherwise address global shortages and partnered with Japan, India and Australia to increase global manufacturing capabilities Expand vaccines.

In an agreement announced at the so-called Quad Summit, a virtual meeting of the heads of state and government of the four countries, the Biden government pledged to provide financial support to enable Biological E, a large vaccine manufacturer in India, to manufacture at least 1 Billion doses of coronavirus to help vaccines by the end of 2022.

This would fix acute vaccine shortages in Southeast Asia and beyond without risking the domestic setback of exporting cans in the coming months as Americans demand their shots.

The United States has fallen far behind China, India and Russia in the race to adopt coronavirus vaccines as an instrument of diplomacy. At the same time, Mr Biden is accused of hoarding vaccines from global health lawyers who want his government to route supplies to nations in need desperately seeking access.

The president insisted that Americans come first and has so far refused to make any specific commitments to free US-made vaccines, despite tens of millions of doses of the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca’s vaccine idling in American manufacturing facilities .

“If we have a surplus, we will share it with the rest of the world,” Biden said this week, adding, “We will first make sure that the Americans are taken care of first, but then we will try the rest of the world to help. “

In fact, the president still has a lot of work to do domestically to keep the promises made in the past few days: All states must question all adults for vaccinations by May 1st so that enough vaccine doses are available by the end of May to vaccinate every American adult, and that by July 4th, if Americans continue to follow public health guidelines, life should return to a semblance of normalcy.

Vaccine supplies seem on track to meet these goals, but the president still needs to put in place the infrastructure to manage the doses and overcome reluctance in large parts of the population to take them.

Still, Mr Biden has also made restoring US leadership a core part of his foreign policy agenda after his predecessor’s alliances frayed and relations with allies and global partners strained. His Foreign Secretary, Antony J. Blinken, said in a recent BBC interview that a global vaccination campaign would be part of this effort. Washington is “determined” to be an “international leader” in vaccinations.

Foreign policy experts and global health activists see clear diplomatic, public and humanitarian reasons for this.

“It’s time for US leaders to ask themselves: When this pandemic is over, do we want the world to remember America’s leadership in helping distribute life-saving vaccines, or will we leave that to others?” said Tom Hart, the North American executive director of One Campaign, a nonprofit founded by U2 singer Bono and dedicated to eradicating global poverty.

The federal government has bought 453 million surplus doses of vaccine, the group says. She has asked the Biden administration to share 5 percent of their doses overseas when 20 percent of Americans have been vaccinated, and gradually increase the percentage of divided doses as more Americans receive their vaccines.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13.5 percent of people in the United States who are 18 years of age or older were fully vaccinated as of Friday.

The authoritarian governments of China and Russia, less affected by national public opinion, are already using vaccines to expand their sphere of influence. As the Biden government plans its strategy to counter China’s growing global clout, Beijing is polishing its image by shipping vaccines to dozens of countries on multiple continents, including Africa, Latin America, and the Southeast Asian backyard in particular.

Russia has shipped its Sputnik V vaccine to Hungary and Slovakia, and the President of the Czech Republic has been calling for that vaccine to be used at a time when Biden officials want to unify the European Union against Russian influence on the continent.

“We may be outdone by others who are more willing to share, even if they do so for cynical reasons,” said Ivo H. Daalder, former NATO ambassador and president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “I think countries will remember who was there for us when we needed them.”

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March 13, 2021, 6:24 p.m. ET

In the face of worrying and highly contagious new varieties in the US and around the world, public health experts say vaccinating people overseas is necessary to protect Americans too.

“It has to be sold to Americans to keep Americans safe over the long term, and it has to be sold to a highly divided, toxic America,” said J. Stephen Morrison, a global health expert with Centers for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think that’s impossible. I think Americans are beginning to understand that in a world of variation, anything that happens outside of our borders increases the urgency to act really quickly. “

Mr Blinken also said this to the BBC: “Until everyone in the world is vaccinated, nobody is really completely safe.”

The quad vaccine partnership announced at the summit on Friday includes different commitments from each of the nations, according to the White House.

In addition to supporting the Indian vaccine maker, the US has pledged at least $ 100 million to bolster vaccination capacity overseas and support public health efforts. Japan is “in discussion” to provide loans to the Indian government to expand the production of vaccines for export and will support vaccination programs for developing countries. Australia will allocate $ 77 million for vaccine provision and delivery assistance with a focus on Southeast Asia.

The four countries will also form oneQuad Vaccine Experts Group byTop scientists and government officials who will work to overcome production hurdles and funding plans.

Mr Morrison said the government deserves “some credit” for the effort, adding, “It shows diplomatic ingenuity and speed.” However, a spokesman for One Campaign, which focuses on extreme poverty, said his group would still see a plan for the United States’ vaccine supply, noting that Africa had given far fewer doses per capita than Asia.

Mr Biden’s efforts to ramp up vaccine production helped the United States produce up to a billion doses by the end of the year – far more than needed to vaccinate the roughly 260 million adults in the United States.

What you need to know about the vaccine rollout

A government-brokered deal to see drug company Merck manufacture Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, which the president celebrated in the White House on Wednesday, will help achieve that goal. Also on Wednesday, Mr Biden directed federal health officials to source an additional 100 million doses of the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

The government has stated that these efforts are aimed at having enough vaccines for children, booster doses, to face new varieties and unforeseen events. Jeffrey D. Zients, Mr Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters Friday that the Johnson & Johnson-Merck deal would also “expand capacity and ultimately benefit the world”.

Not only did Mr Biden resist the urge to dump excess doses, but he also criticized the Liberal Democrats for blocking a motion by India and South Africa for a temporary waiver of an international intellectual property agreement that would make it easier for poorer countries to access generic versions of Coronavirus vaccines and treatments.

“I understand why we should prioritize our supply to Americans – it was paid for by American taxpayers, President Biden is President of America,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a Liberal Democrat from California. “But there is no reason to prioritize the profits of pharmaceutical companies over the dignity of other countries.”

Mr Biden recently announced a $ 4 billion donation to Covax, the international vaccine initiative supported by the World Health Organization. David Bryden, director of the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, a nonprofit that supports health workers in low- and middle-income countries, said money was also urgently needed to train and pay these workers to administer vaccines overseas.

However, that donation and the Quad’s announcement of financial support for vaccine production on Friday fell short of the urgent demands of public health advocates for the United States to provide ready-to-use doses that can be quickly injected.

However, the quad’s focus on Southeast Asia most likely reflects an awareness of China’s gratitude in the region for Beijing’s focus in its vaccine distribution efforts.

If Mr Biden is widely viewed as helping the world recover from the coronavirus pandemic, that could become part of his legacy when President George W. Bush made a huge investment in public health funding in the 2000s the AIDS crisis in Africa responded. More than a decade later, Bush and the United States continue to be revered across much of the continent for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar), which the government said has spent $ 85 billion and saved 20 million lives.

Michael Gerson, a former Bush White House speechwriter and policy advisor who helped shape the Pepfar program, said its impact has been both moral and strategic and that the program has been “an enormous amount of money to the United States.” goodwill “in Africa.

“I think the principle here should be that the people who need it most should get it, no matter where they live,” he said. “There is little moral sense in giving the vaccine to a healthy American 24-year-old in front of a front-line worker in Liberia.”

But he added, “It’s very difficult for an American politician to explain.”

Ana Swanson contributed to the coverage

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