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  • Writer's pictureEdward Lehman

United States Supercharges Global Vaccine Diplomacy

The Joe Biden administration announced it plans to donate 500 million Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses to nearly 100 countries over the next two years, with the United States distributing a total of 200 million shots this year, and another 300 million in the first half of 2022 to 92 lower-income countries.

The donations will go through the COVAX vaccine program that distributes COVID-19 shots to low- and middle-income countries. The program is led by the World Health Organization and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).

It was also reported COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer Moderna is possibly interested in also providing the U.S. government with COVID-19 shots to give to low- and middle-income countries, though no details on specifics were provided.

Pfizer has said it expects to produce as many as three billion COVID-19 shots in 2021 and upwards of four billion next year.

The decision by the Biden administration supercharges global vaccine diplomacy for the U.S., as it will have donated more COVID-19 jabs than all other countries involved in the COVAX program combined.

The current U.S. effort to vaccinate the world against COVID-19 represents only a fraction of what would be needed to vaccinate everyone, raising challenging questions about how access to COVID-19 vaccines will be scaled up and on what timeline, and what the role should be for high income countries like the U.S. going forward.

The latest effort to vaccinate the world is not the first effort by the U.S. to provide necessary medical vaccines in the fight against a global disease.

In 1965, international efforts to eradicate smallpox — a virus that at that point had approximately 10 million to 15 million cases of smallpox worldwide in more than 50 countries, and where anywhere from 1.5 million to 2 million people died from the disease each year — were revitalized with the establishment of the Smallpox Eradication Unit at the World Health organization and a pledge for more technical and financial support from the campaign’s largest donor, the United States. By May 1980, after two years of surveillance and searching, the World Health Assembly declared that smallpox was the first disease in history to have been eradicated.

Polio eradication was the aim of a multinational public health effort that begun in 1988, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Rotary Foundation. These organizations, along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S.-based Gates Foundation, previously spearheaded the campaign through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). Poliovirus has been eradicated in all continents except Asia, and as of 2020, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries where the disease is still classified as endemic.

AmChamUS encourages the U.S. federal government to utilize medical vaccinations to enhance diplomatic missions globally, reinforcing goodwill between nation states, and bringing enhanced cooperation between recipient countries and the U.S. AmChamUS believes this leads to greater economic opportunities for the U.S., as well as steady tourism gains for the U.S. because of healthy global populations being able to travel to the Americas.

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