US ships 1.2 mn Covid vaccine doses to I.Coast

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The United States is sending 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Ivory Coast, which is battling a continent-wide spike in Covid-19 cases, a US official said Wednesday.

"Thanks to the US commitment to playing a leading role in ending the pandemic everywhere, the United States is shipping this week 1,183,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine to Cote d'Ivoire," the White House official told AFP.

Shipment is being managed through Covax, the distributor backed by the World Health Organization and the Gavi vaccine alliance.

Doses "ship today and will arrive in country this weekend," the official told AFP. "We are proud to be able to deliver these safe and effective vaccines to the people of Cote d'Ivoire."

The latest US donation -- with shipments already made to countries as far apart as Vietnam and Honduras -- came as the Biden administration authorized booster shots for all Americans from next month.

President Joe Biden rejected critics who say stockpiles should be focused on helping parts of the world with a shortage before giving Americans an extra dose.

"I disagree," he said in a White House speech on Wednesday. "We can take care of America and help the world at the same time."

While Ivory Coast has recorded fewer than 400 deaths from the coronavirus, according to the WHO, the west African nation is experiencing a third wave of infections sweeping the entire continent.

Less than two percent of people across Africa are fully vaccinated, with some countries having to destroy unused shots because they lack the health infrastructure to administer them or have met strong vaccine hesitancy.

The White House said that the government's USAID branch has budgeted $2 million in funds for readiness, including helping Ivory Coast's government "to plan where vaccines will go, reinforce vaccine supply chain processes, monitor vaccine distribution, increase demand for vaccines with health education, and train health workers on injection safety."

- Debate over booster shots -

President Joe Biden has positioned himself as a leader of international efforts to share vaccine supplies from the world's richest countries with the rest of the globe.

The Ivory Coast batch comes from 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses that were purchased this summer specifically for distribution to the African Union and 92 selected low-income countries. The United States has also donated $2 billion to Covax.

"We're leading the world in a global vaccine strategy because it's the right thing to do," the White House official said. Biden "understands that putting an end to this pandemic requires eliminating it around the world."

Back home, US officials believe a further shot may be needed to supplement vaccinations in the face of the virus' powerful Delta variant. The government said it was authorizing boosters starting September 20.

Americans will be eligible for a shot eight months after receiving a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Officials said they also anticipate booster shots will be needed beginning later in the year for people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which rolled out in March.

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