WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States began sending Vietnam two million doses of Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday (July 6), the White House said, in its latest assistance to countries struggling to tame the pandemic.
The Moderna vaccine shipment - part of a first 80 million doses that President Joe Biden has pledged to allocate worldwide - should arrive in Vietnam this weekend, a White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
"This is just the beginning of doses being shipped to South-east Asia," the official said.
Other regional countries in line for a share of the 80 million doses are Cambodia, Laos, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Thailand.
Communist Vietnam, which borders China, was initially seen as a model for resisting the pandemic through strict contact tracing and mandatory quarantines. Only 90 deaths have been reported by the government out of 21,000 cases.
However, vaccination rates are extremely low in the nation of about 97 million people and the last few weeks have seen infections rise sharply.
According to the Ministry of Health, about 3.9 million doses of vaccines had been administered nationwide by Monday, with 226,000 people having received two doses.
The Biden administration official said the delivery to Vietnam, made through the World Health Organiastion's Covax programme, is part of a strategy aimed at "ending the pandemic everywhere".
In June, China sent half a million Sinopharm vaccine doses to Vietnam, although these were aimed at Chinese nationals in the country and Vietnamese travelling to China.
But the US donation is not part of the so-called "vaccine diplomacy" contest with China or Russia, the official said, even if both Beijing and Moscow have been using their domestically produced vaccines to deepen influence across the world.
"We are sharing these doses not to secure favours or extract concessions. Our vaccines do not come with strings attached," the official said, repeating the White House's established line.
'The right thing'
The United States has largely gotten the pandemic under control at home, after running up the world's biggest death toll at more than 600,000 people.
Mr Biden argues that US vaccine largesse abroad will ultimately benefit Americans by helping the whole world to finally stop viral transmission.
"It's the right thing morally, the right thing from a global public health perspective, and right for our collective security and well-being," the White House said.
While critics say even the eye-catching figures are still too little to reverse the coronavirus in under-served sections of the world, the White House says it is leading the way.
In addition to the 80 million doses already set aside, the Biden administration has committed to donating US$2 billion (S$2.69 billion) to Covax.
It is also purchasing 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for the African Union and 92 poorer countries.
At the recent G-7 summit in Britain, US partners agreed to donate another 500 million doses.
In total, the United States has so far delivered about 40 million of the doses to countries as far apart as South Korea and Honduras, the White House says.
Announcing the Vietnam batch, the White House noted that its donations abroad total "significantly more than any other country has sent".