President Biden told global leaders Wednesday to “supercharge” the fight against COVID-19 by donating — not selling — vaccines to needy nations with no diplomatic strings attached and bolstering supplies of oxygen, medical treatments and masks where they’re needed.
Hosting a COVID-19 summit on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Mr. Biden said the U.S. will set an example by purchasing an additional 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to give to the rest of the world, bringing its tally of committed doses to 1.1 billion.
The U.S. also will provide more than $380 million to the vaccine-sharing alliance known as Gavi to bolster the administration of shots, he said. And he called on non-governmental organizations to do their part, saying governments cannot do everything.
“Nothing is more urgent than all of us working together to defeat COVID-19,” Mr. Biden told leaders in a virtual meeting from the White House. “This is a global tragedy. We’re not going to solve this crisis with half-measures or middle-of-the-road ambitions. We need to go big and we need to do our part.
“The only way to get this done is for everyone, all of us, to step up, which I’m confident we will,” he said.
The administration and the World Health Organization say the coronavirus will be a danger so long as swaths of the global population remain unvaccinated.
The virus has shown an ability to mutate into more dangerous forms and skip from one corner of the world to another, even as WHO says wealthy nations are falling short of the doses needed to wrangle the virus.
The pandemic has resulted in 230 million known cases and 4.7 million deaths around the world. The U.S. has recorded the most deaths (678,000), followed by Brazil (591,000) and India (445,000), though many Americans question whether other nations are diligent in their record-keeping.
Mr. Biden positioned himself as a global leader in the fight even as he struggles to keep patients out of hospitals and lift vaccination rates at home.
Roughly 55% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated and about a quarter of eligible Americans have not received any doses, prompting Mr. Biden to push employer-based mandates to force people into getting the shots.
Mr. Biden earlier this year pledged to provide roughly 100 million doses of multiple vaccines to other countries, including the AstraZeneca vaccine that hasn’t been approved in the U.S. but is widely used in other countries.
He followed that up by purchasing 500 million doses from Pfizer ahead of the Group of Seven nations summit over the summer. Wednesday’s announcement will double that purchase, bringing the total U.S. donation to around 1.1 billion.
Pfizer’s vaccine is administered in two doses, so 1 billion doses are enough to fully vaccinate 500 million people. The administration did not disclose a total cost for the vaccines but said Pfizer is providing them at a “not-for-profit” price.
The administration said the Pfizer doses will be made in the U.S. and shipped out from January to September of next year. It said tens of millions of other doses have been donated this year.
Mr. Biden previously endorsed a plan to waive patents on the vaccines to share know-how with developing countries.
But Europe and the private sector pushed back, saying it would infringe on intellectual property and many nations don’t have the capability to produce vaccines on their own, anyway.
Mr. Biden focused instead on donations, including America’s “one billion and counting.”
“We know what needs to be done,” Mr. Biden said. “We just have to make a choice to do it.”