The White House, besieged with requests from other nations to share excess doses of coronavirus vaccine, on Thursday announced it will distribute an initial 25 million doses this month across a “wide range of countries” within Latin America and the Caribbean, South and Southeast Asia, and Africa, as well as the war-ravaged Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank.
The 25 million represent an initial tranche of a total of 80 million doses President Biden has pledged to send overseas by the end of this month. Three quarters of the first batch will be given to the international vaccine effort known as Covax, officials said. The rest will be reserved for “immediate needs and to help with surges around the world,” they said, including in India and Iraq as well as the West Bank and Gaza.
Thursday’s announcement comes a week before Mr. Biden leaves for Cornwall, England, to meet with the heads of state of the Group of Seven Nations, where the global vaccine supply is certain to be a topic of discussion. Officials said the administration would continue to donate additional doses throughout the summer as they become available.
“This is just the beginning,” Jeff Zients, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters at a White House news conference on the virus. “Expect a regular cadence of shipments around the world, across the next several weeks.”
While China and Russia have used vaccine donations as an instrument of diplomacy in an effort to extract favors from other nations, Mr. Biden has insisted the United States will not do that — a point that Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, emphasized on Thursday.
“Our goal in sharing our vaccines is in service of ending the pandemic globally,” Mr. Sullivan said. “Our overarching aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible. It’s as simple as that,” he said, adding, “It’s the right thing to do.”
Mr. Sullivan said the administration has decided to give priority to neighbors of the United States, including countries like Guatemala and Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, while also working with existing regional networks like the African Union to allow local authorities to allocate the vaccines as they see fit.
Mr. Biden came into office vowing to restore America’s position as a leader in global health, and he has been under increasing pressure from activists, as well as some business leaders, to do more to address the global vaccine shortage. Earlier this year, he said he was reluctant to give away vaccine doses until the United States had enough for its own population, though he did promise in March to send a total of 4 million doses of AstraZeneca’s to Mexico and Canada.
Those doses, it turned out, were made at a Baltimore facility owned by Emergent BioSolutions, where production has since been put on hold after an incident of contamination.
Mr. Biden’s 80 million dose promise covers vaccines made by four manufacturers. He announced last month that his administration would send 20 million doses of federally authorized coronavirus vaccine overseas in June — the first time he had pledged to give away doses that could be used in the United States. That initial tranche, which will be made up of vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, has been increased by 5 million doses; officials did not say why.
Mr. Biden has also pledged to donate up to 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, but those doses, also made at the Emergent plant, are not authorized for domestic use and cannot be released until regulators deem them safe. In March, his administration committed to providing financial support to help Biological E, a major vaccine manufacturer in India, produce at least 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines by the end of 2022.
The president has described the vaccine donations as part of an “entirely new effort” to increase vaccine supplies and vastly expand manufacturing capacity, most of it in the United States. To broaden supply further, Mr. Biden recently announced he would support waiving intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines.
But activists say simply donating excess doses and supporting the waiver is not enough. They argue that Mr. Biden must create the conditions for pharmaceutical companies to transfer their intellectual property to vaccine makers overseas, so that other countries can stand up their own vaccine manufacturing operations.
“Donating 80 million doses of vaccines without a plan to scale-up production worldwide is like putting a band-aid on a machete wound,” Gregg Gonsalves, a Yale University epidemiologist and longtime AIDS activist, said in a recent email message.
Mr. Zients also said the United States is lifting the Defense Production Act’s “priority rating” for three vaccine makers — AstraZeneca, Novovax and Sanofi. None of those vaccines are authorized for use in the United States; now that the rating has been removed, U.S.-based companies that supply the vaccine makers will be able to “make their own decisions on which orders to fulfill first,” Mr. Zients said.