The United States will send 20 million coronavirus vaccine doses in June to countries struggling against the pandemic, answering calls that the Biden administration isn’t doing enough to help countries that face dire shortages of vaccines and other treatments.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Monday that those 20 million doses would be in addition to 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which the U.S. plans to donate once the vaccine is cleared for use by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not clear exactly how long it will take the FDA to authorize the vaccine.
Psaki’s announcement on Monday afternoon came not long after a World Health Organization news conference at which the director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that countries with high vaccination rates had to do more to help countries that were being hit hard by the coronavirus, or the entire world would be imperiled.
“There is a huge disconnect growing where in some countries with the highest vaccination rates there appears to be a mindset that the pandemic is over, while others are experiencing huge waves of infection,” Tedros said.
Tedros’ comments came shortly after the United States and Britain, which have seen a decline in cases and deaths in recent weeks, relaxed restrictions as the virus battered India and other Asian countries.
Variants like B.1.617, first discovered in India and recently designated a variant of concern by the WHO, are contributing to the spread of infections and worry many researchers.
Tedros called for well-supplied nations to send some of their vaccine supplies and allocations to harder-hit countries, and for vaccine developers and manufacturers to hasten delivery of hundreds of millions of doses to COVAX, an international initiative dedicated to equitable distribution of the vaccine, noting an appeal by Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s executive director.
Fore released a statement on Monday saying that COVAX would soon complete delivering 65 million doses, but that it should have delivered at least 170 million and that the effort could be short by as much as 190 million doses by the time Group of 7 leaders gather in England in June.
“We have issued repeated warnings of the risks of letting down our guard and leaving low- and middle-income countries without equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics,” Fore wrote. “We are concerned that the deadly spike in India is a precursor to what will happen if those warnings remain unheeded.”
The vaccine shortage in many countries is compounded by the situation in India, Fore wrote, a global leader in vaccine production.
Psaki said that America’s contribution of 80 million doses would be the most of any country, by five times.
In the U.S., there is a glut of vaccine, and President Joe Biden and his administration face a different problem: convincing the remaining unvaccinated people to get the shot.
Last week Biden announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had changed its guidance to allow people who have been vaccinated to forgo their masks indoors and outdoors in many situations. The decision caused confusion in states and individuals, some who were eager to return to a semblance of normalcy and others who said they planned to stay masked indefinitely.
Rochelle Walensky, the director of CDC, said on “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the agency’s suggestions were “not permission to shed masks for everybody, everywhere.”
She continued, “we are asking people to be honest with themselves. If they are vaccinated and they are not wearing a mask, they are safe. If they are not vaccinated and they are not wearing a mask, they are not safe.”
On Monday, Tedros’ message was more straightforward.
“No one is safe until we are all safe,” he said.