A U.S. government agency created to counter Chinese infrastructure-fueled influence across the world is ramping up international vaccine distribution efforts, Yahoo Finance has learned.
Coming on the heels of the U.S.-hosted COVID-19 summit, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) on Wednesday announced that it would be providing $383 million in financing to help nine countries secure vaccine doses.
"The President is leading the world to elevate the world's ambition to end the COVID 19 pandemic in 2022," DFC COO David Marchick told Yahoo Finance. "Our agency... has played a significant role in advancing the President's agenda, and our work is focused on developing countries."
President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. is buying 500 million more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to donate to countries around the world.
The DFC, in conjunction with Citi, will provide a risk management solution to GAVI, the Global Vaccine Alliance. GAVI has made a commitment to provide more than two billion doses to high- and low-income countries to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some countries are self-financing their supply of the vaccine doses, and they're required to secure insurance to finalize the deal. For nine unnamed countries across Latin and Central America, the Middle, East, and Eastern Europe that were unable to access private insurance markets to secure COVID-19 doses, the DFC is stepping in and offering to facilitate shipments by providing political risk insurance to the tune of $383 million.
Vaccine diplomacy heats up
Launched in 2019, the DFC partners with the private sector to develop projects that address needs in developing countries through debt financing, project financing, and equity investments.
The agency is playing a key role in the Biden administration's climate ambitions. The DFC has also launched projects to help countries build capacity to manufacture vaccines and smoothen financing difficulties.
This latest push comes amid a global effort to ship more vaccine doses to developing countries struggling with infections. According to a tracker by UNICEF, the U.S. donated nearly 160 million vaccine doses while China has donated about 43 million and the United Kingdom has provided around 9.3 million.
"Already, the U.S. has put more than $15 billion toward [the] global COVID response," President Biden told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. "We’ve shipped more than 160 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to other countries. This includes 130 million doses of our own supply. … planes carrying vaccines from the U.S. have already landed in 100 countries."
Since the Biden administration took over in January 2021, the DFC has invested nearly $600 million for COVID-19 related investments, according to the agency. Marchick noted that the DFC facilitating insurance coverage aims to help countries access GAVI's 2 billion dose objective.
"We've really ramped up our global health related activity commensurate with the challenge that the world is facing," Marchick said.
The DFC also recently announced that it had partnered with counterparts in Europe to support a vaccine manufacturer in Senegal to boost production of COVID-19 vaccines. The agency is also providing joint financing for Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Limited, a pharmaceutical company in South Africa, to produce COVID-19 treatment therapies and Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccines on the African continent.
'Aim to mobilize hundreds of billions of dollars'
Healthcare is just one prong of the DFC's mission.
Aside from climate projects, the agency has accelerated investments in infrastructure projects to counter China's massive Belt and Road Initiative in low- and middle-income countries.
For instance, the DFC recently committed $217 million in debt financing for Sierra Leone to build a new power plant in Freetown.
“DFC’s investment will substantially increase access to energy for people all across Sierra Leone," said Marchick in a press release, "providing power generation to meet approximately 24 percent of projected electricity demand in a country where only 15 percent of the population has reliable access to power."
Speaking at the UN, Biden alluded to the need for the U.S. to offer a strong alternative to Chinese money.
"There’s an enormous need in infrastructure for developing countries but infrastructure that is low-quality, feeds corruption or exacerbates environmental degradation may only end up contributing greater challenges for countries over time," Biden said on Tuesday.
"Done the right way, however, with transparent, sustainable investment, and projects that respond to the country’s needs and engage their local workers… infrastructure can be a strong foundation that allows societies in low and middle-income countries to grow and prosper," he added. "That’s the idea behind the Build Back Better world. And together with the private sector and our G7 partners, we aim to mobilize hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure investment."
Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.