The Biden administration is purchasing 500 million doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to donate to the global supply, the White House said Thursday. That will provide enough shots to fully vaccinate 250 million people.
The U.S. is donating 200 million doses this year and 300 million doses in the first half of 2022, the White House said. All of the doses will be distributed through COVAX — the global entity that is working to ensure equitable access to COVID testing and vaccines — and will be given to 92 low- and middle-income countries and the African Union.
President Biden will announce the purchase Thursday in his remarks before the Group of Seven summit in Britain. The White House says the vaccines will begin shipping in August.
Global health leaders have been stepping up their criticism in recent weeks of countries that have elected to use their vaccine supply to give shots to children and other residents at low risk of severe disease within their borders, warning that doing so would come "at the expense of health workers and high-risk groups in other countries."
In an open letter to G7 leaders ahead of the summit, UNICEF warned that COVAX was already facing an immediate shortfall of 190 million doses and urged countries to make "urgent donations by August and to set out a roadmap to scale up donations as supplies increase." COVAX had originally aimed to deliver 2 billion doses of vaccine by 2021.
Purchasing 500 million doses of the vaccine would be the greatest contribution yet by the U.S. to ending the pandemic worldwide. The White House had already committed to sending 80 million doses to other nations.
Other countries have been urging the U.S. to give them more vaccine, since America has the largest vaccine supply of any nation, as well as some of the most effective vaccines.
Some smaller countries have already begun donating tranches of vaccine to COVAX, though none have pledged as much as the U.S. In April, France became the first of the G7 nations to share doses from its domestic supply with COVAX.
Some health experts and advocates welcomed the news of the planned donations by the U.S. The ONE Campaign, which was led by former USAID Administrator Gayle Smith before she was tapped by the White House to lead its global COVID-19 response, issued a statement urging other G7 leaders to "follow the U.S.' example and donate more doses to COVAX."
The announcement will come as Mr. Biden attempts to reassert U.S. influence in the world and among allies. The president is particularly keen to emphasize the importance of democracy as he attends summits in the U.K. and Belgium.
The White House also argues the vaccines will help employ Americans here at home. Pfizer plans to produce the doses at their facilities in Kalamazoo, Michigan, McPherson, Kansas, Chesterfield, Missouri, and Andover, Massachusetts, which employ roughly 7,500 people.