Coronavirus: Joe Biden announces vaccine donation plan to check China and Russia

·4-min read

US President Joe Biden billed a plan to distribute some 80 million Covid-19 vaccine doses worldwide as part of efforts to counter China and Russia, and boasted of quantities distributed overseas that exceed what the two countries have contributed.

“There‘s a lot of talk about Russia and China influencing in the world with vaccines,” Biden said in an address from the White House. “We want to lead the world with our values. Just as in World War II, America was the arsenal of democracy, in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, our nation is going to be the arsenal of vaccines for the rest of the world.”

Biden pledged to send 20 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration – those made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – to countries in need, in addition to the 60 million doses made by AstraZeneca slated to be shipped once that jab is approved by the regulatory body.

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“This will be more vaccines than any country has actually shared to date, five times more than any other country, more than Russia and China,” Biden said.

He added that “we will not use our vaccines to secure favours from other countries”, reiterating a talking point that many in his administration, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have used as they warn other countries that donated doses from China come with strings attached.

China had donated a combined 17.4 million doses of Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines to countries in need of the shots as of May 17, according to Beijing-based Bridge Consulting. That compares with 651 million doses of the two companies’ vaccines sold overseas so far.

China seeks to boost influence by filling ‘vaccine vacuum’ in poor nations

Biden put Jeff Zients, who leads the White House Covid-19 task force, in charge of overseeing the effort to send US vaccine doses overseas, an undertaking that will be carried out by officials in the National Security Council and other federal agencies. The State Department’s Gayle Smith, who led the American response to the Ebola crisis under former president Barack Obama, will also work with Zients.

The US leader said the team will work with the World Health Organization (WHO)-backed Covax Facility – a plan to ensure that those at most risk have access to coronavirus vaccines at the same time, no matter where they live – to deliver the donated jabs.

Coordinated vaccine distribution was identified as one of the first specific tasks of the “Quad”, an informal alliance of the US, India, Japan and Australia, when Biden and the other three countries’ leaders met virtually in March.

US Vice-President Kamala Harris (right) listens as US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Covid-19 response and the vaccination programme from the East Room of the White House on Monday. Photo: TNS
US Vice-President Kamala Harris (right) listens as US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Covid-19 response and the vaccination programme from the East Room of the White House on Monday. Photo: TNS

As Biden did on Monday, the Quad connected vaccine relief to “democratic values” in its inaugural summit, a meeting in which the four leaders called for freedom of navigation and overflight as key objectives in the East and South China seas, just as Washington faced criticism for hoarding the protective jabs.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier on Monday that an inter-agency group is still making decisions about which countries will receive the first US vaccines through Covax.

Honduras turns to China as rich nations hoard Covid-19 vaccines

The Biden administration joined Covax and earmarked US$4 billion in funding for the programme’s administrator Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, soon after his inauguration in January. Britain, Canada, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Japan are among other strong backers of the programme, which intends to finance vaccines for the poorest 92 countries through donations, while the rest will buy doses through the facility.

The Biden administration has received more than four dozen requests for vaccine donations from countries across the world, according to Politico.

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