As the Biden administration on Tuesday touted the more than 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses it has sent abroad, public health and justice advocates continued to highlight the dramatic disparity between inoculation levels in rich and poor nations and demand the United States government go much further in order to save lives and help bring the global pandemic to an end.
"Every dose helps. Yet 100 million doses amount to only one one-hundredth of the current global need," said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program.
"The president has said that the U.S. will serve as a vaccine arsenal for the world," he added. "Ten thousand people die each day waiting for ambitious action to match this vision."
The White House statement ahead of President Joe Biden's afternoon address struck a much different tone, saying that "the U.S. has now donated and shipped more than 110 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccines to more than 60 countries—a major milestone that cements the United States as the global leader in Covid-19 vaccine donations."
"According to the United Nations, this is more than the donations of all other countries combined and reflects the generosity of the American spirit," the White House said.
"Starting at the end of this month," the White House added, "the administration will begin shipping a half a billion Pfizer doses that the United States has pledged to purchase and donate to 100 low-income countries in need."
The statement came a day after the White House announced that at least 70% of people across the United States have received at least one dose, about a month after Biden's July 4 goal. Meanwhile, just over 1% of people in the world's poor nations are vaccinated, as the highly transmissible Delta variant continues to spread around the world.
Axios reported Monday that "the Biden administration is planning a first-of-its-kind, global leader-level summit focused on ending the Covid-19 pandemic and preparing for future pandemics."
The summit will reportedly be held during the United Nations General Assembly next month and include not only political leaders but also various global organizations.
"It is critically important that a global Covid summit be more than just PR," said Maybarduk. "Biden has an opportunity to help launch an urgent global vaccine manufacturing, delivery, and knowledge sharing program that can end the pandemic. Millions of people have lost their lives waiting for such desperately needed action."
Specifically, Public Citizen called on the U.S. government and other nations to:
- Invest $25 billion to make eight billion vaccine doses in one year;
- Share knowledge and vaccine recipes to bring regional production hubs online;
- Waive intellectual property rules and call on Moderna and Pfizer to share vaccine recipes; and
- Immediately reallocate excess doses to COVAX.
COVAX, a global vaccination co-led by the World Health Organization, has struggled to get shots into arms. The New York Times reported Monday that "the 163 million doses it has delivered—most free to poorer nations, with the rest to countries like Canada that paid their way—are a far cry from plans to have at least 640 million doses available by now."
To ramp up production and distribution of doses, and combat what critics have called "vaccine apartheid," campaigners across the globe have called on the World Trade Organization (WTO) members to waive intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.
Though U.S. President Joe Biden caved to public pressure in May and threw his support behind the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver—first proposed by India and South Africa last year—other powerful European countries remain opposed.
Meanwhile, pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna have raised prices for their vaccines, and public health experts and governments are considering the need for a third "booster" shot, heightening concerns that wealthy countries will continue to hoard doses.
The Biden administration's celebration of its vaccine donations on Tuesday came as the Center for Global Development, the Center for Strategic International Studies, the Duke University Global Health Institute, and other groups called for bolder U.S. action in an open letter.
"We are facing the very real possibility that low- and lower-middle income countries will be stuck at low vaccine coverage levels through 2022 and beyond, an outcome that will be deadly," the letter says. "The deep divide between vaccine haves and have-nots is a challenge to our conscience and a major threat to our economic recovery and national security."
"The U.S. and G7 allies have taken important but modest steps to close the global vaccine gap, including by accelerating large-scale production and delivery of high-quality vaccines, increasing financial support to COVAX, and committing to share roughly 900 million doses over the next year (including 580 million from the U.S.)," it adds. "But these actions fall far short of the true scale and urgency required."
Dr. Krishna Udayakumar, director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, echoed that message in comments to ABC News, focusing on the White House's new figure.
"Getting 110 million doses out is really helpful, but in the scale that we need to find a way to get 10 billion plus doses out, it's not even in the order of magnitude to make a difference," he said. "The U.S. has done more than any other country so far, but that's more an indictment of the whole response, as opposed to the U.S. standing out in any positive way."
"We have under-invested on the ground in ensuring vaccines can turn into vaccinations," Udayakumar added. "My biggest concern is we're going to see vaccines sitting in freezers around the world."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Jessica Corbett.