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WASHINGTON — President Biden promised on Wednesday that his administration would buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, which it would then donate for distribution across the world. The new donation will mean that by 2022, the United States will have donated 1.1 billion doses of vaccine — far more than any other nation, but not nearly enough to account for the roughly 4 billion unvaccinated people around the world.
“America will become the arsenal of vaccines, as we were the arsenal for democracy during World War II,” President Biden said at a virtual summit with world leaders, where he made the announcement.
Biden also reminded those leaders that they, too, shared in that responsibility. “We need other high-income countries to deliver on their own ambitious vaccine donations and pledges,” he said. Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump frequently pointed out where he felt other developed nations fell short in their responsibilities, particularly when it came to defense alliances. His method of doing so, unlike Biden’s, showed little subtlety.
China has been engaging in vaccine diplomacy of its own, but its proprietary Sinovax vaccine is far less effective than the vaccines developed by the United States, Britain and Germany. Russia also has its own vaccine, Sputnik V, of which UNICEF purchased 220 million doses, despite outstanding questions about its efficacy.
As the president spoke from the White House, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel was considering how booster shots would be administered to Americans who are already vaccinated but whose protection may be waning.
The two issues are closely related. Some have argued that the decreasing efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine after about eight months makes it necessary for Biden to make sure that Americans’ immunity is fortified before he takes the rest of the world into account.
Others say that it is a moral responsibility for the United States to help nations where few, if any, people have been vaccinated. Estimates suggest that in the developing world, as few as 2 percent of people have been vaccinated. By contrast, Britain has vaccinated 89 percent of residents of 16 or older.
“To beat the pandemic here, we need to beat it everywhere,” Biden said in Wednesday’s remarks, reflecting an epidemiological reality that informs any moral concerns about the role of the United States as a biomedical superpower.
A new variant of the coronavirus is bound to arise in parts of the world where the virus has free rein to replicate and mutate. “Ensuring that vaccines are accessible to the global population better protects everyone and helps prevent virus mutations and potentially dangerous variants that hold the potential to evade current vaccines and undo the hard-won gains made in the U.S.,” read a statement from the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
The group called on Biden to “accelerate” vaccine distribution in countries in the developing world, which, according to the statement, have received less than 1 percent of all vaccine doses thus far.
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