US nears deal for 500 million Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine doses to give abroad

A deal is expected to be announced in the coming days, ahead of an international Covid-19 summit.
A deal is expected to be announced in the coming days, ahead of an international Covid-19 summit.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The Joe Biden administration is negotiating with Pfizer to buy an additional 500 million Covid-19 vaccines to donate globally, a person familiar with the matter said, doubling the government's commitment to helping less wealthy countries.

A deal is expected to be announced in the coming days, ahead of an international Covid-19 summit Mr Biden has called for on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is not yet public.

The Biden administration struck a nearly identical agreement with the company in August, and Pfizer has been shipping those doses to the international vaccine programme Covax.

The programme has been slow to get doses to participant countries, leaving many less wealthy nations with only a tiny percentage of their populations vaccinated.

"The President has been clear that we will do more and more to help lead the world in getting the world vaccinated," Mr Jeff Zients, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said on Friday (Sept 17).

Details of the agreement were reported earlier by The New York Times.

While the donations are an important diplomatic gesture by the United States, broad vaccination of the global population would also help reduce the chances of mutations that could escape the vaccines protecting Americans.

A large donation would also help deflect criticism that the US is hoarding vaccines to give its citizens booster shots, while some lower-income parts of the world wait to be inoculated.

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision on whether to clear booster shots for use could happen within days, after an external panel of experts recommended that the FDA authorise vaccines for people 65 and above, and those at high risk.