U.S. to Pledge Over 1.1 Billion COVID Doses, But Amount is Fraction of Worldwide Need

The United States is pledging to step up its commitment to help vaccinate the globe, with President Joe Biden preparing to announce that the U.S. will double its purchase to 1 billion doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 shots to share with the world, the Associated Press reported.

Biden is embracing the goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the global population within the next year, an announcement he plans to make virtually Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly as he encourages other wealthy nations to follow suit.

In a statement, the White House said Biden will push other countries to "commit to a higher level of ambition" with vaccine sharing, which includes goal-setting. Officials added that the White House will published the targets for wealthy countries and nonprofits following the summit.

But the purchase will vaccinate only a fraction of 70 percent of the global population and 70 percent of each nation by next September's U.N. meeting. The target projected by global aid groups is one that Biden said he will support.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Biden Summit
The United States is pledging to step up its commitment to help vaccinate the globe, with President Joe Biden preparing to announce that the U.S. will double its purchase to 1 billion doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 shots to share with the world. Above, Biden meets with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (not shown) at the Intercontinental Barclay Hotel on September 21, 2021, in New York City. Evan Vucci/AP Photo

World leaders, aid groups and global health organizations are growing increasingly vocal about the slow pace of global vaccinations and the inequity of access to shots between residents of wealthier and poorer nations.

The U.S. purchase, according to two senior Biden administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview Biden's remarks, will bring the total U.S. vaccination commitment to more than 1.1 billion doses through 2022. At least 160 million shots supplied by the U.S. have been distributed to more than 100 countries, representing more donations than the rest of the world combined.

The American response has come under criticism for being too modest, particularly as the administration advocates for providing booster shots to tens of millions of Americans before vulnerable people in poorer nations have received even a first dose.

"We have observed failures of multilateralism to respond in an equitable, coordinated way to the most acute moments. The existing gaps between nations with regard to the vaccination process are unheard of," Colombian President Iván Duque said Tuesday at the United Nations.

More than 5.9 billion COVID-19 doses have been administered globally over the past year, representing about 43 percent of the global population. But there are vast disparities in distribution, with many lower-income nations struggling to vaccinate even the most vulnerable share of their populations, and some yet to exceed 2 percent to 3 percent vaccination rates.

In remarks at the U.N., Biden took credit on Tuesday for sharing more than 160 million COVID-19 vaccine doses with other countries, including 130 million surplus doses and the first installments of more than 500 million shots the U.S. is purchasing for the rest of the world.

Other leaders made clear in advance it was not enough.

Chilean President Sebastian Piñera said the "triumph" of speedy vaccine development was offset by political "failure" that produced inequitable distribution. "In science, cooperation prevailed; in politics, individualism. In science, shared information reigned; in politics, reserve. In science, teamwork predominated; in politics, isolated effort," Piñera said.

The World Health Organization says only 15 percent of promised donations of vaccines—from rich countries that have access to large quantities of them—have been delivered. The U.N. health agency has said it wants countries to fulfill their dose-sharing pledges "immediately" and make shots available for programs that benefit poor countries and Africa in particular.

COVAX, the U.N.-backed program to ship vaccines to all countries has struggled with production issues, supply shortages and a near-cornering of the market for vaccines by wealthy nations.

The WHO has urged companies that produce vaccines to prioritize COVAX and make public their supply schedules. It also has appealed to wealthy countries to avoid broad rollouts of booster shots so doses can be made available to health care workers and vulnerable people in the developing world. Such calls have largely gone ignored.

COVAX has missed nearly all of its vaccine-sharing targets. Its managers also have lowered their ambitions to ship vaccines by the end of this year, from an original target of some 2 billion doses worldwide to hopes for 1.4 billion now. Even that mark could be missed.

As of Tuesday, COVAX had shipped more than 296 million doses to 141 countries.

The 70 percent global target is ambitious, not least because of the U.S. experience.

Biden had set a goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the U.S. adult population by July 4, but persistent vaccine hesitance contributed to the nation not meeting that target until a month later. Nearly 64 percent of the entire U.S. population has received at least one dose and less than 55 percent is fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

U.S. officials hope to increase those figures in the coming months, both through encouraging the use of vaccination mandates and by vaccinating children once regulators clear the shots for the under-12 population.

Aid groups have warned that the persistent inequities risk extending the global pandemic, and that could lead to new and more dangerous variants. The Delta variant raging across the U.S. has proved to be more transmissible than the original strain, though the existing vaccines have been effective at preventing nearly all serious illness and death.