World

US to donate 500 million vaccine doses to world's poorest countries

Biden administration expects other G-7 members to contribute towards ending pandemic

CARBIS BAY, ENGLAND : The United States will spend $3.5 billion (S$4.6 billion) to buy and donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to some of the world's poorest countries, it said yesterday, urging other Group of Seven (G-7) nations to follow suit.

The vaccine donation - the largest by a single country - was announced before US President Joe Biden meets leaders of the G-7 advanced economies in western England today.

The 500 million doses are destined for the world's 100 poorest countries.

A senior Biden administration official described the gesture as a "major step forward that will supercharge the global effort" with the aim of "bringing hope to every corner of the world".

"We really want to underscore that this is fundamentally about a singular objective of saving lives," the official said, adding that Washington was not seeking favours in exchange for the doses.

The Biden administration expects other G-7 members to come up with contributions as part of a comprehensive road map to end a pandemic that has killed more than 3.9 million people, the official added.

US drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech had earlier said they would provide 200 million doses this year and 300 million doses in the first half of next year.

The shots, which will be produced at Pfizer's US sites, will be supplied at a not-for-profit price.

"Our partnership with the US government will help bring hundreds of millions of doses of our vaccine to the poorest countries around the world as quickly as possible," said Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla.

Anti-poverty campaign group Oxfam called for more to be done to increase global production of vaccines.

DROP IN THE BUCKET

"Surely, these 500 million vaccine doses are welcome as they will help more than 250 million people, but that is still a drop in the bucket compared with the need across the world," said Oxfam America's vaccine lead Niko Lusiani.

"We need a transformation towards more distributed vaccine manufacturing so that qualified producers worldwide can produce billions more low-cost doses on their own terms, without intellectual property constraints," he added in a statement.

Mr Biden has backed calls for a waiver of some vaccine intellectual property rights but there is no consensus on how to proceed.

The new donations come on top of 80 million doses Washington has already pledged to donate by the end of this month, and US$2 billion in funding earmarked for the Covax programme led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi), the White House said.

Gavi and the WHO welcomed the initiative.

Mr Biden's announcement comes amid mounting pressure on the US, which has now given at least one shot to around 64 per cent of its adult population, to boost donations of vaccines to other countries in desperate need. - REUTERS

WORLD