US to release $4B to boost Covid vaccine stocks for poor nations

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A pharmacist prepares a syringe of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, at Queen Anne Healthcare, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle. Pfizer has committed to supply up to 40 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine this year to a World Health Organization-backed effort to get affordable vaccines to 92 poor and middle-income countries. The deal announced Friday, Jan. 22 will supply the shots to the program known as COVAX. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

US President Joe Biden will use his first big presidential moment on the global stage at Friday’s Group of Seven (G7) meeting of world leaders to announce that the US will soon begin releasing $4 billion for an international effort to bolster the purchase and distribution of coronavirus vaccine to poor nations, White House officials said.

Biden will also encourage G-7 partners to make good on their pledges to COVAX, an initiative by the World Health Organization to improve access to vaccines, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview Biden’s announcement.

Former President Donald Trump declined to participate in the COVAX initiative because of its ties to WHO, the Geneva-based agency that Trump accused of covering up China’s missteps in handling the virus at the start of the public health crisis.

The $4 billion in US funding was approved by Congress in December and will be distributed through 2022.

The US is committed to working through COVAX to ensure “equitable distribution of vaccines and funding globally,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday.

It remains to be seen how G-7 allies will take Biden’s calls for greater international cooperation on vaccine distribution given that the U.S. refused to take part in the initiative under Trump and that there are growing calls for the Biden administration to distribute some US-manufactured vaccine supplies overseas.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in an interview Thursday, called on the US and European nations to allocate up to 5 percent of current vaccine supplies to developing countries — the kind of vaccine diplomacy that China and Russia have begun deploying.

And earlier this week, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sharply criticized the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of Covd-19 vaccines, noting 10 countries have administered 75 percent of all vaccinations.

Last month, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also raised with Biden the prospect of Canada getting the vaccine from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, according to a senior Canadian government official.

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