The Biden administration on Thursday announced it would send 80 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to other nations struggling with the pandemic by the end of the month and outlined a plan for allocating the first 25 million doses.
The U.S. will share 75 percent of those initial 25 million doses, or 19 million, through COVAX, the international effort to equitably distribute COVID-19 vaccines, according to a fact sheet. The other 6 million doses will go to countries that are regional priorities or partners.
The announcement comes as the White House is pushing for more Americans to get vaccinated this month to achieve President Joe Biden’s goal of 70 percent of American adults being vaccinated by July 4. As the pandemic abates in the United States and some doses face looming expiration dates, the administration is facing pressure to share its supply with other nations that have very few to no vaccines and are confronting a crush of cases.
"As long as this pandemic is raging anywhere in the world, the American people will still be vulnerable," said Biden. "And the United States is committed to bringing the same urgency to international vaccination efforts that we have demonstrated at home."
The U.S. will ship a mix of its three authorized vaccines, made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. The 25 million doses announced Thursday will come from the federal government’s surplus supply, rather than states’ excess supply, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said during a press briefing.
“We will continue to donate additional doses across the summer months as supply comes available,” Zients said. “But at the same time, we know that won’t be sufficient. So the second part of our approach is working with U.S. vaccine manufacturers to vastly increase vaccine supply for the rest of the world in a way that also creates jobs here at home.”
Biden previously said the U.S. would send 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not yet been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, abroad. The U.S. already shipped 4 million AstraZeneca doses to Mexico and Canada.
For the doses that the U.S. is sharing with COVAX, the administration allocated 6 million for South and Central American countries, 7 million for Asian countries and 5 million for African countries to be determined in coordination with the African Union.
The doses going to countries that are priorities and specific partners include areas where there have been surges of the virus or other challenges, such as India and the West Bank and Gaza. The U.S. is sending 1 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to South Korea on Thursday, Zients said. Ukraine, Kosovo, Haiti, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Yemen will also be priority countries, as well as United Nations front-line workers.
Zients told reporters that the administration would work "as expeditiously as possible" to ensure safe delivery of doses, calling it a "complex operational challenge." Officials expect regular shipments in the coming weeks, he said.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said officials considered several factors when deciding how to share doses, including how best to achieve global coverage, respond to surges in certain situations and help as many countries as possible that requested vaccines.
The administration also decided to prioritize helping neighboring countries, he said.
The U.S. is withdrawing its Defense Production Act priority ratings for the AstraZeneca, Novavax and Sanofi vaccines, which have not yet been authorized by the FDA, Zients also told reporters. That would allow U.S. suppliers to vaccine manufacturers to determine which orders to prioritize.
“We are confident in our supply of our authorized vaccines,” Zients said.