US global vaccine distribution plan to be announced soon, says Secretary of State Blinken

The US has faced growing calls to do more to share vaccines globally. PHOTO: AFP

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday (June 2) that President Joe Biden could announce this week Washington's plan for distributing 80 million coronavirus vaccines globally.

"I want you to know as well that in a few short days... possibly as early as tomorrow, the president is going to announce in more detail, the plan that he's put together to push out 80 million vaccines, around the world," said Mr Blinken at a gathering at the US Embassy in Costa Rica.

The US has said it will send at least some of its donated doses to the Covax initiative, the World Health Organisation-backed effort to buy and distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income nations. The US has been consulting with Covax on its plan, one official said.

The administration's announcement will stop short of the full 80 million doses President Joe Biden said he'll share this month. Instead, it will focus on the US supply of shots made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, which are authorised for use. The president has said the US will donate "at least" 20 million of those by the end of June.

Mr Biden has also pledged to donate 60 million AstraZeneca vaccines by the end of June, but those efforts have been hamstrung by a Food and Drug Administration safety review. The president won't ship out the AstraZeneca doses until they are cleared by the FDA, people familiar with the matter said.

"The most urgent and important thing we can do is start sharing doses in a matter of days to weeks," said Dr Krishna Udayakumar, founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Centre. "The faster we move, the faster we can stop playing this game of whack-a-mole."

The US has faced growing calls to do more to share vaccines globally, as American demand falls off and the virus rages in other countries, giving rise to variants. The US vaccination campaign raced ahead of other nations as the government secured the first hundreds of millions of doses produced domestically.

The administration earlier agreed to loan 4.2 million doses of vaccines to Mexico and Canada. Those are the only US-owned doses that have been sent abroad.

In the US, 297 million vaccine doses have been given so far. In the past week, an average of 1.1 million doses per day were administered, down significantly from just several weeks ago.

About 62.9 per cent of US adults had received at least one dose as of Wednesday (June 2), according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Mr Biden has set a target of 70 per cent by July 4.

Dr Udayakumar suggested allocating vaccines partially through Covax and partially according to criteria such as the need to address emerging variants of the virus, and countries' ability to deliver doses quickly and efficiently.

"We are at growing risk of really getting to a world of haves and have-nots," he said.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday (June 1) said the administration of US President Joe Biden would focus on equitable distribution of the vaccines and not tie political strings to the process, a criticism at times directed at China.

Mr Biden has said he will not use the vaccines as a diplomatic tool, and he has criticised China and Russia for bartering doses for gain.

"We'll share these vaccines in the service of ending the pandemic everywhere. And we will not use our vaccines to secure favours from other countries," Mr Biden said on May 17.

Mr Blinken reiterated that point on Tuesday.

"Among other things, we will focus on the equitable distribution of vaccines," he said.

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