WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The White House on Thursday laid out a plan for the United States to share 25 million surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses with the world and said it would lift some restrictions to allow other countries to buy U.S.-made supplies for vaccine production more easily.
President Joe Biden said the United States would share the vaccines without expectation of political favors in return. Biden has pledged to share some 80 million COVID-19 vaccines internationally this month.
The United States will donate nearly 19 million doses through the COVAX international vaccine sharing program, he said in a statement. Through COVAX, some 6 million doses would go to Latin America and the Caribbean, about 7 million doses to South and Southeast Asia and roughly 5 million to Africa.
The remaining doses, amounting to just over 6 million, would go directly from the United States to countries including Canada, Mexico, India and South Korea, he said.
"We are sharing these doses not to secure favors or extract concessions," Biden said in a statement. "We are 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."
Although the United States is working through the COVAX facility co-run by the World Health Organization, the White House retains final say in which countries receive U.S. doses and how many, said national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
The White House will base donation decisions on "factors included achieving global coverage, responding to crises… and helping as many countries as possible," Sullivan said, adding that the United States intends to prioritize its neighbors, including Canada, Mexico and countries in Central and South America.
Biden has come under pressure from the world community to share the U.S. surplus of COVID-19 vaccines.
For months, the White House has remained focused on getting Americans vaccinated after the coronavirus killed more than half a million people in the United States within the last year.
But the president has promised that the United States would become a supplier to other countries and pledged to send abroad at least 20 million doses of the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, on top of 60 million AstraZeneca Plc doses he had already planned to give to other countries.
The 25 million doses Biden announced on Thursday will not include supply from AstraZeneca, the White House said.
LIFTING SOME RESTRICTIONS
The White House is also removing special powers it granted through the Defense Production Act (DPA) to certain vaccine makers that received U.S. funding but do not yet have U.S. approvals, including AstraZeneca, Sanofi SA/GlaxoSmithKline Plc, and Novavax Inc.
The DPA ratings give U.S. producers priority access to supplies and equipment needed to manufacture the vaccines that are in short supply around the world. Lifting them could free up raw materials for major vaccine makers elsewhere, especially the Serum Institute of India (SII).
Invoking the DPA helped build a huge local vaccine production system, while some companies overseas have struggled to get needed supplies to ramp up vaccine production.
SII, the world's largest vaccine maker and a top supplier of COVID-19 shots to low- and middle-income countries, had criticized the use of the DPA, and Reuters reported in May that a shortage of U.S.-made raw materials would hit production of Novavax's vaccine.
"That is a start, at least – the Biden administration acting to stop harming the global response. Now, we need a DPA for the world," said Peter Maybarduk, access to medicines director at consumer watchdog Public Citizen, which has argued the United States should use the DPA to scale up global vaccine production.
White House COVID adviser Jeff Zients said the United States will continue to donate additional doses throughout the summer as more supply becomes available.
The U.S. announcement came amid growing concern about the huge disparity in vaccination rates in developing countries versus advanced economies.
The heads of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank on Thursday urged the Group of Seven advanced economies to release any excess COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries as soon as possible, and called on manufacturers to ramp up production to benefit poor countries.
Pfizer has begun independently exporting millions of its U.S.-made shots largely to countries in Central and South America, Reuters reported last month.
Many Latin American countries have a dire need for COVID-19 vaccines as they combat outbreaks. Brazil has been one of the world’s hardest hit countries by the pandemic, reporting a total of more than 15 million cases and 400,000 deaths, while Peru this week revised its COVID-19 death toll, making it the country with the worst per capita fatality rate.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Carl O'Donnell; additional reporting by Allison Martell and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)
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