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COVID vaccines

U.S. to donate 500m more COVID vaccine doses to other countries

New commitment brings American contribution to 1.1bn-plus jabs

U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a virtual coronavirus summit from the White House as part of the United Nations General Assembly.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States on Wednesday promised to buy 500 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses to donate to other countries as it comes under increasing pressure to share its supply with the rest of the world.

The White House is hosting a four-hour virtual summit aimed at boosting global vaccination rates and the administration of President Joe Biden wants to show it is leading by example.

"To beat the pandemic here we need to beat it everywhere," Biden said, kicking off the summit, which includes leaders from Canada, Indonesia, South Africa and Britain, as well as World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"This is an all hands on deck crisis," he said of the pandemic that has raged since early 2020, killing at least 4,913,000 people.

The additional vaccines will bring U.S. donations to the rest of the world to more than 1.1 billion doses, far short of the 5 billion to 6 billion doses global health experts say is needed by poorer countries.

The vaccines from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE will be made in the United States and shipped to low and lower middle-income countries starting in January, a senior administration official said ahead of the announcement.

"This is a huge commitment by the U.S. In fact for every one shot we have administered in this country to date, we are now donating three shots to other countries," the official told reporters.

A source familiar with the issue said the government would pay some $7 per dose.

In June, the Biden administration agreed to buy and donate 500 million doses of the vaccine. Under the terms of that contract, the United States will pay Pfizer and BioNTech around $3.5 billion or $7 a dose for the shots.

The United States has also come under criticism for planning booster shots to fully vaccinated Americans while millions of people around the world still do not have access to the life-saving vaccines.

The COVAX facility, backed by the World Health Organization and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), has delivered over 286 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to 141 countries, GAVI data shows. In September the organizations running the facility had to cut their 2021 delivery target by nearly 30% to 1.425 billion doses.

Vaccination rates in some countries, including Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are less than 1%, a Reuters tracker shows.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reprimanded world leaders on Tuesday for the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, describing it as an "obscenity" and giving the globe an "F in Ethics."

Delays in vaccinations mean the global population will be "exposed to new variants attacking us with greater ferocity," Columbian President Ivan Duque said Wednesday. "Global immunity requires solidarity, so hoarding cannot exist in the face of others' needs," Duque said.

Biden's virtual summit will focus on vaccinating the world, saving lives by tackling an oxygen shortage and making medicines more available, and preparing for another pandemic in the future, another administration official said.

Targets include getting 70% of countries' populations vaccinated by this time next year.

Deliveries of the initial 500 million doses began in August, and the total one billion doses are expected to be delivered by the end of September 2022, according to a statement from Pfizer and BioNtech.

The doses will be made in Pfizer's U.S. facilities, and delivered to 92 low- and lower-middle-income countries and the 55 member states of the African Union.

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