According to the Associated Press, which cited a person familiar with the matter on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden is expected to announce the program during the Group of Seven (G7) summit being held in Cornwall, England, later this week.
The New York Times reported that the doses would be distributed to about 100 countries, with 200 million doses being sent this year and the rest sent in the first half of 2022.
White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters the US would become the ”arsenal of vaccines,” akin to the “arsenal of democracy” term President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used during World War II to describe how US industries supplied Allied powers with war materiel.
Sullivan added that Biden wanted to “leverage what the United States is doing to help get the world’s democracies to increase their commitment to supplying vaccines to the developing world to help end this pandemic once and for all" and show "that democracies are the countries that can best deliver solutions for people everywhere."
The World Health Organization has said that roughly 11 billion vaccines are required to vaccinate 70% of the Earth’s population, and made urgent calls for vaccines to be sent to Africa in particular, which as a continent has the world’s lowest vaccination rate of just barely 2%.
However, so far the US distributed a tiny amount of vaccines and only pledged to send a total of 80 million shots to poorer countries. By contrast, the People’s Republic of China has already sent 350 million vaccine shots abroad while also administering 808 million shots at home as of Wednesday, according to National Health Commission data.
In addition, Russia has pledged 300 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute to Africa by May of 2022, in addition to other deals with individual nations, including for the vaccine to be manufactured in Egypt starting later this year.
The announcement comes as the US faces increasing pressure to begin distributing the trove of vaccines it has accumulated for itself. The US government has already paid for 750 million vaccines, twice the total US population, and both Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, said they would take care of vaccinating Americans before helping other parts of the globe.
On Wednesday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded that 63.9% of Americans had received at least one shot of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, which paralleled with the lowest daily new case rate since the early weeks of the pandemic: the seven-day average on Tuesday was 14,142 new cases across the US, and a seven-day average of 360 deaths.
Sullivan told reporters the forthcoming purchase would be made in lieu of pushing for a waiver of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, which US Trade Representative Katherine Tai had previously stated the administration was discussing with the World Trade Organization.
“We're all converging around the idea that we need to boost vaccine supply in a number of ways, sharing more of our own doses,'' Sullivan said. “We'll have more to say on that, helping get more manufacturing capacity around the world.''
More than 80 nations, led by India and South Africa and supported by progressive figures in the US, have been pressuring the WTO to waive the TRIPS agreement and allow them to produce the vaccines developed by First World pharmaceutical giants locally as generic drugs. However, those same companies have staunchly opposed the suggestion, which would undermine their anticipated massive profits from vaccine sales.
As Sputnik has reported, although Pfizer says it offers tiered pricing to help poorer nations afford its vaccine, the amount per shot is only marginally lower than those offered to rich nations like the US. Further, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that the company had made stiff demands of several Latin American nations before it would sell to them, including requiring them to bear the costs of any lawsuits brought against Pfizer due to the shots. Brazil and Argentina reported that their negotiations with Pfizer fell apart after they refused to offer up state assets like military bases and embassies as collateral for their purchases.