Biden to pledge US$4 billion to Covax vaccine programme at G-7 meeting

The US White House will announce plans to immediately grant US$2 billion to the international Covax programme. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The Biden administration will pledge US$4 billion (S$6.42 billion) to a vaccination programme for poorer countries at a global economic summit on Friday (Feb 19) in hopes that other countries will follow suit and contribute additional funds, US officials said on a Thursday press call.

At a meeting of the Group of Seven (G-7) nations, a summit for the world's largest economies, the White House will announce plans to immediately grant US$2 billion to the international Covax programme, which aims to ensure a fair supply of coronavirus vaccines around the world, officials said.

The United States will supply the remaining US$2 billion over the next two years as other nations fulfill their own pledges, the officials said.

"We want to turn this into a way to translate US$2 billion into several billion dollars, up to at least US$15 billion," said one of the officials, estimating the total amount needed for the global vaccination drive.

The US funding has already been approved by Congress. Mr Biden's action is a sharp departure from his predecessor Donald Trump's threat to withdraw from the WHO, which he accused of being too close to China, where the novel coronavirus emerged in late 2019.

Covax aims to deliver at least 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 to cover 20 per cent of the most vulnerable people in poor and middle-income countries. The programme is at risk of failing, mainly due to a lack of funds.

The head of the Gavi vaccine alliance, which co-leads the program, has also said Covax needs greater political support, as wealthier nations strike fresh deals with developers to secure limited supplies.

The incoming head of the World Trade Organisation and others have underscored the urgent need to jump-start vaccinations across Africa and in other regions that are lagging behind.

The US officials said the donations would not interfere with Mr Biden's promise to have enough vaccines available for all Americans who want them by the end of July.

"When we have a sufficient supply it is our intention to consider donating surplus vaccines, absolutely," said one official.

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