Since the vaccine rollout began gaining momentum in the U.S. this spring, the Biden administration has faced serious scrutiny for buying up the global supply of shots, leaving developing countries high and dry as the U.S. scooped up 1.3 billion doses — enough to vaccinate every American three times over. In response to this criticism, the White House pledged in May to donate 80 million vaccine doses to the rest of the world. That number is significantly more than other countries that have made progress inside their borders, but it will barely meet the need for 11 billion doses the World Health Organization says are needed to end the pandemic.
Continuing to improve on the process, on Wednesday the Biden administration announced a much larger effort to vaccinate the world, pledging to buy 500 million Pfizer doses to donate abroad. More details are expected when Biden details his global vaccine strategy at the G7 summit this weekend, but CNN reports that close to 200 million doses will be distributed in 2021 and another 300 million in the first six months of 2022. The doses will be sent out through COVAX, the international program distributing vaccines in the developing world. The shots will reportedly go to 92 developing nations as well as the African Union. According to Bloomberg News, the G7 will vow to deliver another 1 billion shots to their goal over the next year, which would cover 80 percent of the global need.
In a statement on Wednesday, White House coronavirus-response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said the president intends to use the “momentum” of the U.S. vaccination effort to “rally the world’s democracies around solving this crisis globally, with America leading the way to create the arsenal of vaccines that will be critical in our global fight against COVID-19.” However, barring a much larger international vaccine strategy, there will need to be more than just momentum and these 500 million shots (inoculating 250 million people with the two-dose Pfizer vaccine) over the next 12 months.
Perhaps more concerning is the timeline, considering that a horrific surge of the virus in India led the country to stop the Serum Institute of India — the world’s largest vaccine producer — from exporting doses so they could be administered at home. Because of this devastating wrinkle and American and European “vaccine hoarding,” COVAX had distributed only 3.4 percent of its 2 billion dose goal as of last month. Meanwhile, variants are making the virus more contagious in many nations that have not made significant vaccination progress.