U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced on Wednesday that the United States will purchase an additional 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer-BioNtech and share them with lower-income countries via COVAX. With the new purchase, the United States plans to donate in total nearly 1.1 billion vaccine doses to the world to help beat the still raging pandemic.
In addition, Biden said the United States will also provide an additional $370 million to support administering COVID-19 shots and deliver them globally.
He added that the United States will also be providing more than $380 million to the Global Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) to “further facilitate vaccine distribution to regions with the greatest needs.”
President Biden said the United States will also be providing nearly $1.4 billion to reduce COVID-19 deaths and mitigate transmissions through bulk oxygen support, expanded testing, strengthening healthcare system and more.
President Biden made the announcement at a virtual summit on COVID-19 the United States is hosting.
“We can do this,” President Biden said, adding that the U.S. has shared more vaccines with the world than all other countries combined.
“We’re going to lead with the power of our example and we’re not going to stop,” Biden said.
Some African leaders in attendance included the head of the Africa CDC John Nkengasong, the Director General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. There are also heads of state from many nations from around the world.
In his first address at the United Nations on Tuesday, President Biden said the United States has already shared more than 160 million COVID-19 doses with other countries and spent over $15 billion on the global coronavirus response.
“Already, the United States has put more than $15 billion toward global COVID ()the global COVID response. We’ve shipped more than 160 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to other countries. This includes 130 million doses from our own supply and the first tranches of the half a billion doses of Pfizer vaccine we purchased to donate through COVAX,” President Biden said in his address. “Planes carrying vaccines from the United States have already landed in 100 countries, bringing people all over the world a little “dose of hope,” as one American nurse termed it to me. A “dose of hope,” direct from the American people — and, importantly, no strings attached.”
Biden told the UN General Assembly that on Wednesday at the U.S.-hosted Global COVID-19 Summit, “I’ll be announcing additional commitments as we seek to advance the fight against COVID-19 and hold ourselves accountable around specific targets on three key challenges: saving lives now, vaccinating the world, and building back better.”
The new vaccine donations will also go through COVAX, adding that the allocations for every country and continent, including Africa, will be determined later on.
President Biden will urge other world leaders to “step up” to beat the worst pandemic in more than 100 years and ensure than 70 percent of the world’s population is vaccinated by next year.
As of last week, only 3.5 percent of people had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Africa, according to the Director of the Africa CDC, Dr. John Nkengasong, who spoke at a press conference where the World Health Organization Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and a group of global health leaders issued an urgent call for vaccine equity globally and in Africa in particular.
The group of global health leaders stressed that the worst pandemic in the last hundred years will not end unless and until there is genuine global cooperation on vaccine supply and access, and reiterated the WHO’s global vaccination target for 70% of the population of all countries to be vaccinated by mid-2022.
The leaders also acknowledged that safe and effective vaccines alone cannot solve the coronavirus pandemic, asserting that public health and social measures are also vital to beat COVID-19 and accelerate global recovery.
Those public health measures include a robust surveillance supported by rapid diagnostics, early clinical care and life- saving therapeutics, provided by well-trained health workers who are able to work in safe conditions.
At the press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, the WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was joined by Dr Seth Berkley, CEO, Gavi; Strive Masiyiwa, AU Special Envoy for COVID-19; Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa; Dr John Nkengasong, Africa CDC Director; Professor Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Afreximbank and Dr Vera Songwe, United Nations Under- Secretary- General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission For Africa.
The press conference followed two days of meetings among the leaders, with Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer of CEPI joining the meetings as well.
AFRICA’S VACCINATION TARGETS
Africa’s target is to vaccinate 800 million people in the continent or 60 percent of its population in total. This year, the aim was to vaccinate about 40 percent of its population.
At the current trajectory, it may be difficult to vaccinate even 10 percent of the continent by December 2021, a dangerous trend that may prolong the pandemic for a long time.
GLOBAL VACCINE DISTRIBUTION
The WHO has suggested that to end the coronavirus pandemic, every country should vaccinate at least 10% of its population by September, at least 40% by the end of the year, and 70% globally by the middle of next year.
Currently, while almost 90% of high-income countries have now reached the 10% target, and more than 70% have reached the 40% target, not a single low-income country has reached either target.
Globally, 5.5 billion vaccine doses have been administered, but 80% have been administered in high- and upper-middle income countries.
High-income countries have now administered almost 100 doses for every 100 people. Meanwhile, low-income countries have only been able to administer 1.5 doses for every 100 people, due to lack of supply.
The WHO has repeatedly called on the world to spare no effort to increase vaccine supply for lower-income countries, asserting that his can be done by removing all the barriers to scaling up manufacturing including waiving IP, freeing up supply chains and technology transfer.
As part of these efforts, in June, WHO and COVAX partners announced the first COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub, to be set up in South Africa.
And while high-income countries have promised to donate more than 1 billion doses, less than 15% of those doses have materialized and manufacturers have promised to prioritize COVAX and low-income countries.
Global health leaders believe that the vaccine supply through COVAX and other sources will increase substantially in the coming months of this year.
At the moment, COVAX has shipped more than 236.6 million doses to 139 participants as of September 6, 2021. Some 41 participants started their first campaigns thanks to COVAX.
U.S. LEADS VACCINE DONATIONS IN THE WORLD
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: Director-General, WHO
“More than 5.7 billion doses have been administered globally, but only 2% of those have been administered in Africa.”
“This doesn’t only hurt the people of Africa, it hurts all of us. The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating and changing, the longer the social and economic disruption will continue, and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective.”
Strive Masiyima, AU Special Envoy for COVID-19
“Vaccine sharing is good but we shouldn’t have to be relying on vaccine sharing. Particularly when we can come to the table, put structures in place and say, we also want to buy.”
“American taxpayers, European taxpayers, they financed some of this intellectual property and it should be for the common good. So, it is not wrong that we say there should be waivers, it was for the common good. So, we ask for this IP to be made available.”
“It was a great miracle to have these vaccines, now let this miracle be available to all mankind.”
Dr John Nkengasong, Africa CDC Director
“We will not be able to achieve 60% of our population fully immunised if we do not fully explore and deploy the power of partnership, the power of cooperation, and the power of solidarity” … “We all have acknowledged now that vaccines are the only solution for us to get out of this pandemic collectively. That has to be done quickly.”
Dr Vera Songwe, UN Under- Secretary- General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission For Africa
“For every one month of lockdowns in the continent cost us $29 billion of production that was lost. For [the African continent], when we say that COVID-19 is an economic issue and we need to respond to it, to be able to recover and reset our economies, it is real. And for that we need financing and we need to see how we can bring together global financial structures to ensure that we can actually respond to this crisis”.
“We know that scarcity means increased cost, and we cannot afford today as a continent that kind of scarcity.”
Professor Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Afreximbank
“Africa did not want to once again be at the bottom of queue in regard to vaccines because it was well known to everybody that economy recovery meant bringing the virus under control.”
“It is important that we do this for the simple reason that countries want us to make sure that we do not fail, and make it difficult for us to recover quickly.”
Dr Seth Berkley, CEO Gavi
“Today’s meeting is important, as it symbolizes the spirit of partnership between COVAX, the African Union and AVATT: Africa needs more doses and together we will get them.”
“We’re poised to embark on the busiest period of what is the largest and most complex vaccine rollout in history. We’ve demonstrated that COVAX can work at scale, but it’s really time for the world to get behind it.”
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director For Africa
“The question is sometimes asked: do African countries have the capacity to absorb the vaccines? The simple answer is yes. The continuous challenge is that global supplies are not being shared in ways that will get the world out of this pandemic.”
“Hundreds of WHO staff are on the ground, ready to support countries to expand vaccination sites and to manage the complexities of small deliveries of a variety of vaccines“.
“What’s more, African countries have done this before – successfully implementing massive vaccination campaigns against polio, yellow fever and cholera.”