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Biden announces plan to share first 25 million COVID-19 vaccine doses with the world

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The US is set to donate an initial 25 million doses of surplus coronavirus vaccines overseas through the United Nations-backed COVAX programme, President Joe Biden has announced.

“As long as this pandemic is raging anywhere in the world, the American people will still be vulnerable,” the US leader said in a statement on Thursday.

“And the United States is committed to bringing the same urgency to international vaccination efforts that we have demonstrated at home,” he said.

The doses, which will be shipped from federal stockpiles of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, will add to 76 million doses already distributed under the COVAX initiative to countries short on vaccine supplies.

The 25 million shots also come as part of a bid from the White House to share as many as 80 million doses globally by the end of June, mostly through the COVAX programme.

At least 75 percent of the 25 million doses will be shared through COVAX, Biden said, “including approximately 6 million doses for Latin America and the Caribbean, approximately 7 million for South and Southeast Asia, and approximately 5 million for Africa, working in coordination with the African Union and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention”.

“The remaining doses, just over 6 million, will be shared directly with countries experiencing surges, those in crisis, and other partners and neighbors, including Canada, Mexico, India, and the Republic of Korea,” the US president said.

Biden’s announcement came shortly after World Health Organisation officials in Africa put out a call for vaccine sharing after shipments almost completely dried up in the midst of a rise in COVID-19 cases.

The vaccine doses are expected to reach Africa, Asia, South and Central America and elsewhere.

However, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said America would “retain the say” on where the doses distributed through COVAX go, according to The Associated Press.

However, he also said: “We’re not seeking to extract concessions, we’re not extorting, we’re not imposing conditions the way that other countries who are providing doses are doing.”

“These are doses that are being given, donated free and clear to these countries, for the sole purpose of improving the public health situation and helping end the pandemic,” Sullivan said.

Biden shared in that sentiment in his own statement, asserting that the US is “sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values”.

The widely-anticipated vaccine sharing effort comes as demand for jabs in the US has dropped, with more than 63% of adults in the US having received at least one dose of a vaccine.

A string of countries have requested doses from the US, but so far, only Canada and Mexico have received a combined total of around 4.5 million doses.

The US’s contribution will mean that “frontline workers and at-risk populations will receive potentially life-saving vaccinations” and bring the international community “a step closer to ending the acute phase of the pandemic,” Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, which is leading the COVAX alliance, said, according to AP.

Tom Hart, the acting CEO of The ONE Campaign, however, said the US would ultimately need to commit to sharing more vaccine doses with the rest of the world.

“The world is looking to the US for global leadership, and more ambition is needed,” he said.

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