The UN health agency warns coronavirus cases are surging in many countries on the continent.
The administration of United States President Joe Biden has announced its plans to share with the world a stockpile of 25 million unused COVID-19 vaccine doses.
The White House said on Thursday 75 percent of those doses will go to the United Nations-backed COVAX global vaccine sharing programme, while the rest will go directly to allied nations and partners.
“As long as this pandemic is raging anywhere in the world, the American people will still be vulnerable,” Biden said in a statement. “And the United States is committed to bringing the same urgency to international vaccination efforts that we have demonstrated at home.”
Of the 25 million doses, the White House says about 19 million will go to COVAX, with approximately six million for Latin America and the Caribbean, seven million for Asia, and five million for Africa. The doses mark a substantial – and immediate – boost to the lagging COVAX effort, which to date has shared just 76 million doses with needy countries.
The remaining 25 percent will be kept in reserve for emergencies and for the US to share directly with allies and partners.
The White House said six million doses will be directed to Mexico, Canada, and South Korea, West Bank and Gaza, Ukraine, Kosovo, Haiti, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Yemen, as well as for United Nations front-line workers.
In a tweet on Thursday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said that during a phone call Vice President Kamala Harris pledged that the US would ship 1 million of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to Mexico.
Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said the shipment is expected next week.
In the statement, Biden said the US will be sharing the vaccines without expectation of political favours in return.
“We are sharing these doses not to secure favors or extract concessions,” Biden said. “We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values.”
In recent months, the US’s growing stockpile of COVID-19 vaccines has been seen as a stark example of its global privilege. And the vaccine sharing plan comes as demand for shots in the US has dropped significantly, as more than 63 percent of adults have received at least one dose – and as global inequities in supply have become more glaring.
Americans aged above 12 are eligible to be vaccinated. And on Wednesday, Biden announced a campaign to vaccinate 70 percent of Americans by July 4, the nation’s Independence Day.
Scores of countries have requested doses from the US, but to date, only Mexico and Canada have received a combined 4.5 million doses. The US has also announced plans to share enough shots with South Korea to vaccinate its 550,000 soldiers who serve alongside American service members on the peninsula.
The US had earlier said it plans to share 80 million vaccine doses globally by the end of June.
Biden has committed to providing other nations with all 60 million domestically produced doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. That vaccine has yet to be authorised for use in the US, but is widely approved around the world. The US-produced doses will be available to ship as soon as they clear a safety review by the Food and Drug Administration.
The president has also promised to share 20 million doses from existing production of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine stocks. Even more doses are expected to be made available to share in the months ahead.
On Thursday, the White House also announced that it is lifting restrictions on sharing vaccines produced by AstraZeneca, as well as Sanofi and Novavax, which are also not authorised in the US, allowing the companies to determine themselves where to share their doses.