Biden to send millions of doses of Pfizer vaccine to 100 countries

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WASHINGTON – President Biden, under pressure to aggressively tackle the global coronavirus vaccine shortage, will announce on Thursday that his administration will purchase 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and donate it to around 100 countries over the course of next year, according to people with knowledge of the plan.

The White House struck the deal just in time for Mr. Biden’s eight-day European trip, which is his first opportunity to reaffirm the United States as a world leader and to re-establish relations that have been badly damaged by President Donald J. Trump.

“We need to end Covid-19, not just at home which we do, but everywhere,” Mr Biden told US troops after landing at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England. “There isn’t a wall high enough to protect us from this pandemic or the next biological threat we face, and there will be more. This requires coordinated multilateral action.

People familiar with the Pfizer deal said the United States would pay for the doses at a “not-for-profit” price. The first 200 million doses will be distributed by the end of this year, followed by 300 million by next June, they said. The doses will be distributed via Covax, the international vaccine sharing initiative.

Mr. Biden is in Europe for a week to attend NATO and Group of 7 summits and meet Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in Geneva. He will probably use this trip to call on other countries to step up vaccine distribution.

In a statement on Wednesday, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House official responsible for developing a global immunization strategy, said Mr. Biden would “rally democracies around the world around resolving this crisis at scale. global, America leading the way in creating the arsenal of vaccines that will be essential in our global fight against Covid-19. “

The White House is trying to shine a light on its success in fighting the pandemic – especially its vaccination campaign – and use that success as a diplomatic tool, especially as China and Russia seek to do the same. . Mr Biden insisted that unlike China and Russia, which share their vaccines with dozens of countries, the United States will not seek to extract pledges from countries receiving American-made vaccines.

The 500 million doses are still well below the 11 billion the World Health Organization estimates necessary to immunize the world, but far more than what the United States has pledged to share so far. Other countries have pleaded with the United States to give up some of its plentiful supply of vaccines. Less than 1 percent of people are fully vaccinated in a number of African countries, compared to 42 percent in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Global health advocates welcomed the news, but reiterated their position that it is not enough for the United States to simply give a vaccine. They say the Biden administration must create the conditions for other countries to manufacture vaccines themselves, including the transfer of technology to manufacture the doses.

“The world needs urgent new manufacturing to produce billions more doses in one year, not just commitments to purchase the inadequate planned supply,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of the Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program, in a statement. He added: “We have yet to see a plan from the US government or the G7 of the ambition or urgency needed to produce billions more doses and end the pandemic.”

The deal with Pfizer has the potential to open the door to similar deals with other vaccine makers, including Moderna, whose vaccine was developed with U.S. tax dollars, unlike that of Pfizer. Additionally, the Biden administration has negotiated a deal in which Merck will help produce Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, and those doses may be available for use overseas.

The United States has already contracted to purchase 300 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires two injections, for distribution in the United States; the 500 million doses are on top of that, according to people familiar with the deal.

Neither Pfizer nor administration officials would say what the company charges the government for the doses. Pfizer is also offering the Biden administration the option of purchasing an additional 200 million doses at cost to donate overseas.

For Pfizer, the decision to sell that much supply to the Biden administration without making a profit is an important step.

Its vaccine accounted for $ 3.5 billion in revenue in the first three months of this year, or nearly a quarter of Pfizer’s total revenue. By some estimates, the company made around $ 900 million in pre-tax profit from the vaccine in the first quarter.

But the company has also been criticized for disproportionately helping rich countries, even though Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla had promised in January to help ensure that “developing countries have the same access as the rest of the world. world”.

The 200 million doses of Pfizer that the Biden administration plans to donate this year represent about 7% of the three billion doses the company is expected to produce. Pfizer plans to deliver an additional 800 million doses to lower and lower middle income countries under other agreements with individual countries or Covax, a spokesperson said.

For Biden, the deal shows his administration is ready to dig deeper into the nation’s treasury to help poorer countries.

Last week, Biden said the United States would distribute 25 million doses this month to countries in the Caribbean and Latin America; South and Southeast Asia; Africa; and the Palestinian territories, Gaza and the West Bank.

These doses are the first of 80 million that Mr. Biden has pledged to send overseas by the end of June; three quarters of them will be distributed by Covax. The rest will be used to deal with pressing and urgent crises in places like India, the West Bank and Gaza, administration officials said. Most of the 80 million doses were manufactured by AstraZeneca and are still linked to a complex review by the Food and Drug Administration.

Mr Biden also pledged to support a waiver of an international intellectual property agreement, which would make it more difficult for companies to refuse to share their technology. But European leaders are blocking the proposed waiver, and pharmaceutical companies are strongly against it. The World Trade Organization’s Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights is meeting this week to consider the waiver.

The president’s promise of vaccines for the global market comes as he prepares to meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday, who called on leaders to pledge to vaccinate everyone by the end of 2022. L Mr Biden’s announcement is likely to be good news for Mr Johnson, whose critics have questioned where the money would come from to keep his promise.

“The truth is, world leaders have been kicking the road for months – to the point where they are running out of steam,” Edwin Ikhouria, executive director for Africa of the ONE campaign, a goal-oriented organization. nonprofit aiming to eradicate poverty in the world. , said in a statement Wednesday.

About 64% of adults in the United States are at least partially vaccinated, and the president has set a goal of increasing that number to 70% by July 4. The pace of vaccination has dropped sharply since mid-April, leading the Biden administration to pursue a strategy of greater accessibility and incentives to reach Americans who have not yet been vaccinated.

Despite these efforts, there are unused doses of vaccine that could be wasted. Once thawed, doses have a limited shelf life and millions could start to expire within two weeks, according to federal officials.

Providing equitable access to vaccines has become one of the most difficult challenges to overcome in bringing the pandemic under control. Richest countries and private entities have pledged tens of millions of doses and billions of dollars to consolidate global supplies, but the disparity in vaccine allocations so far has been glaring.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, warned this week that the world faces a “two-way pandemic”, in which countries where vaccines are scarce will struggle with cases virus even as the best-supplied countries return to normal.

These low-income countries will largely depend on richer countries until vaccines can be distributed and produced on a more equitable basis, he said.

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed to New York reporting, and Michael D. Shear of Plymouth, England.

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