US shipping Covid-19 vaccines to Indonesia, Bhutan, Nepal

Graveyard workers prepare to move the body of a Covid-19 victim at a cemetery in Surabaya, East Java, on July 9, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States is shipping three million doses of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine to Indonesia, with another 1.5 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine heading to Nepal and 500,000 Moderna doses to Bhutan, a White House official said on Friday (July 9).

The shipments are part of the Biden administration's pledge to share an initial batch of 80 million US-made vaccines globally amid concern about the wide disparity in vaccination rates between advanced and developing countries.

Last week, the administration announced plans to ship a million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech to Malaysia.

The shipment to Indonesia is part of four million doses promised last week and is one of the largest US shipments of donated vaccines thus far. The remaining one million doses will be shipped soon, the official said, adding that the United States was also moving forward with plans to boost assistance to Indonesia's broader Covid-19 response.

Indonesia has recorded 2.4 million coronavirus cases and 64,000 deaths, among the highest tolls in Asia. But those have accelerated at an alarming rate, with daily fatalities doubling in the first week of July.

The United States has been competing with China to deepen its geopolitical influence through so-called vaccine diplomacy, but insists it is not sharing vaccines to secure favours or extract concessions, but to save lives and end the pandemic.

The United States had already announced plans to provide vaccines to other countries in Asia, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Papua New Guinea and Cambodia.

In addition to the 80 million doses, Washington has said it will purchase 500 million Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines to distribute to the African Union and 92 low- and lower middle-income countries.

A White House official said scientific teams and legal and regulatory authorities had worked together to ensure the prompt delivery of safe and effective vaccine lots to Bhutan and Nepal.

International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva on Wednesday urged the United States, China and other Group of 20 major economies, whose finance officials are meeting in Venice this weekend, to accelerate access to vaccines around the world.

She warned of a worsening two-track recovery that threatened to leave developing countries far behind. Providing faster access to vaccinations could potentially save more than half a million lives in the next six months alone, she said.

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