US orders 500m Pfizer/BioNTech COVID jabs for developing nations

The US government will buy 500 million more doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine that will be given to around 100 countries via the COVAX donation programme over the next two years.

Pfizer and BioNTech are providing 200 million doses this year, and another 300 million in the first half of 2022, at a not-for-profit price for donation to low- and middle-income countries and organisations that support them.

The announcement was made as President Joe Biden landed in the UK for the G7 summit, his first international trip, with the White House describing it as “an historic action that will help supercharge the global fight against the pandemic.”

With around two-thirds of Americans already vaccinated against COVID-19, the aim now is to “beat the pandemic globally by helping to vaccinate the world.”

Pfizer and BioNTech meanwhile said the doses are part of their pledge to provide two billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to low- and middle-income countries over the next 18 months.

The vaccines will start shipping in August, likely welcome news for campaigners who have warned that supplies could go to waste if high-income countries donate stocks en masse once vaccination programmes near completion towards the end of this year.

There are concerns that healthcare systems in many countries will simply not have the capacity to distribute a glut of doses before they expire. The US previously said it would donate 80 million doses from its national supply to COVAX by the end of this month.

The 300 million doses for 2022 will be delivered between January and end of June 2022, according to Pfizer and BioNTech.

Commenting on the latest move, Mark Green – president of the US think tank the Wilson Centre and former administrator of USAID – said the world had reached “a crossroads moment – a moment when real choices are to be made especially in light of the growing number of variants and the likely need for booster shots later.”

“While this is a step forward, we must build the absorptive capacity in the field so that countries are prepared to administer doses appropriately and ensure they do not just sit on the shelves,” he added.

The news, coming just ahead of the G7 meeting, will likely put pressure on other rich nations to follow suit and expand and accelerate vaccine donation plans.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said last week that more vaccine and monetary donations from G7 as well as G20 countries – a group that includes China, India and Brazil – were needed to step up the fight against the pandemic.

“Our partnership with the US government will help bring hundreds of millions of doses of our vaccine to the poorest countries around the world as quickly as possible,” said Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla.

“COVID-19 has impacted everyone, everywhere, and to win the battle against this pandemic, we must ensure expedited access to vaccines for all.”

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