President Biden, who is responding to widespread calls to intensify his response to the rise of the pandemic abroad, said on Monday that his government would send 20 million doses of federally authorized coronavirus vaccine abroad in June – for the first time that he promised to give away doses that may be used in the United States.
The donation is another step in the direction of what Mr. Biden has promised to be a ‘completely new attempt’ to increase vaccine supply and greatly expand manufacturing capacity, mostly in the United States. He also put White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients in charge of developing a global strategy.
“We know that America will never be completely safe until the global pandemic is under control,” he said. Biden said in a brief appearance in the White House. “No ocean is wide enough, no wall is high enough to keep us safe.”
With new cases and deaths increasing as vaccination rates in the United States rise, the center of the crisis has shifted to India and other countries. A growing and dual chorus of diplomats, health experts and business leaders has urged the president to do more to call AIDS activist Asia Russell a vaccine apartheid.
Mr. Biden said Monday that 20 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines – approved for domestic use – will be shipped abroad. This is in addition to the 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine he promised last month, although the doses have not been approved for domestic use and can only be released until regulators consider it safe.
“He crossed the threshold by making direct donations,” said J. Stephen Morrison, a global health expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who worked with three other health institutes on Monday to unveil a plan to increase vaccine supply. “This is an important shift.”
International health activists want much more.
“Donating 80 million doses of vaccines without scaling up a production worldwide is like putting a band-aid on a machete,” said Gregg Gonsalves, a longtime AIDS activist.
The 80 million doses were five times as much as another country donated, Mr. Biden said. He noted that taking the lead in helping the world fight back the coronavirus was an opportunity to restore the US government. And unlike Russia and China, which have sought to use their vaccines as a tool of diplomacy, the United States will not expect any favors, the president said.
“We want to lead the world with our values, with this demonstration of our innovation and ingenuity, and the fundamental decency of the American people,” he said. Biden said. “Just as America was the arsenal of democracy in World War II, our country will be the arsenal of vaccines for the rest of the world in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The announcement of mr. Biden does not come long after a media conference of the World Health Organization at which the director-general, dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that countries with a high vaccination rate had to do more to help countries hit hard by the coronavirus, or the whole world would be hampered.