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Biden announces vaccine donations, but India and South Africa renew calls for IP waivers

U.S. to donate 500 million additional Pfizer doses

President Joe Biden speaks as Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, listens during a virtual COVID-19 summit Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in the South Court Auditorium at the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
President Joe Biden speaks as Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, listens during a virtual COVID-19 summit Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in the South Court Auditorium at the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden formally announced the U.S. commitment to donate 500 million additional doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine as part of a U.S.-hosted global vaccine summit Wednesday, but other world leaders say donations alone won’t be enough without waiving intellectual property protections.

Biden opened the summit from the White House complex Wednesday, which was held virtually on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

“This is another half a billion doses that will all be shipped by this time next year. And it brings our total commitment … of donated vaccines to over 1.1 billion vaccines to be donated,” the president said. “Put another way, for every one shot we’ve administered to date in America, we have now committed to do three shots to the rest of the world.”

After Biden’s remarks, the White House press corps departed, but other world leaders went on to say the commitments from wealthy nations must go far beyond vaccine donations.

For instance, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa applauded Biden for hosting Wednesday’s summit and for U.S. contributions to the global vaccination effort, but he pressed for the international community to grant a waiver of intellectual property provisions.

“The gulf is widening between better-resourced nations who are buying up and even hoarding vaccines and developing countries who are struggling to have access to vaccines. The pandemic has revealed the full extent of the vaccine gap between developed and developing economies and how that gap can severely undermine global health security,” Ramaphosa said, according to a transcript.

“We welcome the donations and sharing of vaccines to developing countries,” the South African president said. “We, however, reiterate our proposal that developing countries should be enabled to manufacture their own vaccines as well as to procure them directly. South Africa and India have proposed that the WTO should approve the proposal we have made for the waiver of the TRIPS provision,” referring to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which all member nations of the World Trade Organization are a party to.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed a similar sentiment.

“India and South Africa have proposed a TRIPS waiver at the WTO for COVID vaccines, diagnostics and medicines. This will enable rapid scaling up of the fight against the pandemic,” Modi said. “We also need to focus on addressing the pandemic economic effects. To that end, international travel should be made easier, through mutual recognition of vaccine certificates.”

Vaccine status verification will likely be a topic of discussion when Modi visits the White House in person at the end of the week for the Quad summit, with Biden and the leaders of Australia and Japan.

Oxfam America was among the outside groups to respond to the summit with renewed calls for the TRIPS waiver, which has had U.S. support but has faced opposition from elsewhere, including Germany, where the biotech company BioNTech developed the Pfizer-backed vaccine.

“President Biden announced his support for the WTO proposal in May, but instead of leading, his administration has largely stayed on the sidelines of the negotiations. During that time, more than 1 million people around the world have died from COVID,” Oxfam America President and CEO Abby Maxman said in a statement. “The bottom line is that we cannot vaccinate 70% of the world with the same tools that have vaccinated only 1% of Africa so far.”

The Biden administration has promoted a global target of vaccinating 70 percent of the world’s population by UNGA 2022.

“Now is the time to waive intellectual property barriers, end vaccine monopolies, and mandate the sharing of vaccine technologies and know-how,” Maxman said.

Harris announces preparedness funding

Vice President Kamala Harris attended virtually in the afternoon, and the White House again provided access to her presentation, in which she announced U.S. backing of the effort to develop a Financial Intermediary Fund at the World Bank. The current Italian presidency of the G-20 has been active in advocating for a new financing structure for pandemic preparedness, as has Harris.

“And today, I am proud to announce that we — the United States — are prepared to contribute at least $250 million to help get this fund started,” Harris said. “We have also requested an additional $850 million from the United States Congress. But again, it’s going to take all of us to get this work done.”

It was not immediately clear what kind of spending request had been made to Congress for the funding.

“We invite the nations gathered here to help us meet this, as some would say, ambitious, but I believe achievable, goal. We also see an important role and responsibility for the private sector,” Harris said. “Those who can must do everything we can.”

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