President Biden, heeding widespread calls to step up his response to the pandemic’s surge abroad, said on Monday that his administration would send 20 million doses of federally authorized coronavirus vaccine overseas in June — the first time he has pledged to give away doses that could be used in the United States.
The donation is another step toward what Mr. Biden promised would be an “entirely new effort” to increase vaccine supplies and vastly expand manufacturing capacity, most of it in the United States. He also put Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, in charge of developing a global strategy.
“We know America will never be fully safe until the pandemic that’s raging globally is under control,” Mr. Biden said in a brief appearance at the White House. “No ocean’s wide enough, no wall’s high enough, to keep us safe.”
With new cases and deaths plummeting as vaccination rates rise in the United States, the epicenter of the crisis has moved to India and other nations. A growing and bipartisan chorus of diplomats, health experts and business leaders has been pushing the president to do more to end what the AIDS activist Asia Russell calls “vaccine apartheid.”
Mr. Biden said on Monday that 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines — all approved for domestic use — would be sent abroad. That is in addition to the 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine he pledged last month, though those doses are not approved for domestic use and cannot be released until regulators deem them safe.
“He’s crossed the threshold into direct donations,” said J. Stephen Morrison, a global health expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which teamed up with three other health institutes on Monday to release a plan to ramp up vaccine supply. “That’s an important shift.”
International health activists want far more.
“Donating 80 million doses of vaccines without a plan to scale up production worldwide is like putting a Band-Aid on a machete wound,” said Gregg Gonsalves, a longtime AIDS activist.
Those 80 million doses amounted to five times the number that any other country had donated, Mr. Biden said, noting that taking the lead in helping the world beat back the coronavirus was a chance to reassert American authority. And unlike Russia and China, which have sought to use their vaccines as an instrument of diplomacy, the United States will not expect any favors in return, the president said.
“We want to lead the world with our values, with this demonstration of our innovation and ingenuity, and the fundamental decency of the American people,” Mr. Biden said. “Just as in World War II America was the arsenal of democracy, in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic our nation’s going to be the arsenal of vaccines for the rest of the world.”
Mr. Biden’s announcement 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.
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