WASHINGTON – President Biden, under pressure to aggressively address the global coronavirus vaccine shortage, will announce Thursday that his government will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine and deliver them to about 100 countries next year The donation will be made by people familiar with the plan.
The White House reached the deal just in time for Mr Biden's eight-day tour of Europe, which will be his first opportunity to assert the United States as world leader and to re-establish ties that have been badly frayed by President Donald J. Trump.
"We have to end Covid-19, not just at home, which we do, but everywhere," Biden told American troops after landing at R.A.F. Mildenhall in Suffolk, England. “There is no wall high enough to protect us from this pandemic or the next biological threat, and there will be others. It requires coordinated multilateral action. "
People familiar with the Pfizer deal said the United States would pay for the cans at a "not for profit" price. The first 200 million cans will be distributed by the end of this year, followed by 300 million by next June, they said. The doses will be distributed through Covax, the international vaccine exchange initiative.
Mr Biden is in Europe for a week to attend the NATO and Group of 7 summits and to meet with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in Geneva. He will likely use the trip to urge other nations to step up vaccine distribution.
In a statement Wednesday, Jeffrey D. Zients, White House official in charge of developing a global vaccination strategy, said Biden will “bring the world's democracies together to resolve this global crisis, with America leading the way, the vaccine arsenal that will be of vital importance in our global fight against Covid-19. "
The White House is trying to highlight its success in fighting the pandemic – especially its vaccination campaign – and using that success as a diplomatic tool, especially as China and Russia are trying to do the same. Mr Biden has insisted that unlike China and Russia, who share their vaccines with dozens of countries, the United States will not try to force promises from countries to get US-made vaccines.
The 500 million doses are still well below the 11 billion the World Health Organization estimates to vaccinate the world, but well above what the United States has promised so far. Other nations have asked the United States to give up some of its ample vaccine supplies. In some African countries, less than 1 percent of people are fully vaccinated compared to 42 percent in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Global health advocates welcomed the news but reiterated their stance that it is not enough for the United States to simply give away vaccines. They say the Biden government needs to create the conditions for other countries to manufacture vaccines themselves, including transferring technology to make the cans.
"The world desperately needs new productions to produce billions more doses within a year, not just pledges to buy planned inadequate supplies," said Peter Maybarduk, director of the Citizens' Access to Medicines program, in a statement. He added, "We have not yet seen a US government or G7 plan with the ambition or urgency to add billions more doses and end the pandemic."
The Pfizer deal has the potential to open the door to similar agreements with other vaccine makers, including Moderna, whose vaccine was developed with US taxpayers' money – unlike Pfizer's. In addition, the Biden government has negotiated a deal whereby Merck will help manufacture Johnson & Johnson's vaccine, and those doses may be available for use overseas.
The United States has already signed a contract to purchase 300 million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which requires two vaccinations to be distributed in the United States; the 500 million cans are on top of that, according to people familiar with the deal.
Biden in Europe
June 9, 2021, 8:50 p.m. ET
Neither Pfizer nor administrators would tell what the company is charging the government for the cans. Pfizer is also offering the Biden government the option to purchase an additional 200 million cans at cost to be donated overseas.
For Pfizer, the decision to sell so much of the supply to the Biden government for no profit is a significant step.
The vaccine accounted for $ 3.5 billion in sales for the first three months of this year, nearly a quarter of Pfizer's total sales. By some estimates, the company made approximately $ 900 million in pre-tax income from the vaccine in the first quarter.
However, the company has also been criticized for disproportionately supporting wealthy nations, despite Pfizer's CEO Albert Bourla promising in January to help ensure that "developing countries have equal access to the rest of the world."
The 200 million Pfizer cans the Biden government plans to donate accounts for about 7 percent of the three billion cans the company is expected to produce this year. Pfizer expects to deliver an additional 800 million doses to lower and lower middle income countries through other agreements with individual countries or Covax, a spokeswoman said.
For Mr Biden, the deal shows that his government is ready to intervene deeper in the treasury to help poorer countries.
Last week, Mr Biden said the United States would be distributing 25 million doses to countries in the Caribbean and Latin America this month; South and Southeast Asia; Africa; and the Palestinian Territories, Gaza and the West Bank.
These cans are the first of 80 million that Mr Biden intended to send abroad by the end of June; three quarters of these are sold by Covax. The rest will be used to address urgent and urgent crises in countries like India, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, government officials said. Many of the 80 million cans were manufactured by AstraZeneca and are still subject to a complex review by the Food and Drug Administration.
Mr Biden has also pledged to support a waiver of an international intellectual property treaty that would make it difficult for companies to refuse to share their technology. But European leaders are blocking the proposed exemption, and pharmaceutical companies are firmly against it. The World Trade Organization's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Council meets this week to review the derogation.
The president's promise to get vaccines for the world market comes as he prepares on Thursday for a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has urged leaders to commit to all people by the end of 2022 vaccinate the world. Mr Biden's announcement is likely welcome news to Mr Johnson, whose critics have questioned where the money will come from to keep his promise.
"The truth is, world leaders have been taking to the streets for months – to the point where they ran out of roads," Edwin Ikhouria, executive director for Africa at ONE Campaign, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating global poverty, said in a statement on Wednesday.
About 64 percent of adults in the United States are at least partially vaccinated, and the president has set a goal of increasing that number to 70 percent by July 4, following an accessibility strategy and incentives to reach Americans who have not yet received any injections.
Despite these efforts, there are unused doses of vaccine that could be wasted. Once thawed, cans have a limited shelf life and millions could expire within two weeks, according to federal officials.
Ensuring fair access to vaccines has become one of the most persistent challenges in containing the pandemic. Wealthier nations and private companies have pledged tens of millions of doses and billions of dollars to sustain global supplies, but the disparities in vaccine allocations so far have been stark.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, warned this week that the world is facing a "two-pronged pandemic" with countries short of vaccines struggling with virus cases even as better-served countries return to normal.
These lower-income countries will largely depend on wealthier ones until vaccines can be distributed and produced on a more equitable basis, he said.
Daniel E. Slotnik contributed the coverage from New York and Michael D. Shear from Plymouth, England.