Biden’s global vaccine strategy draws scrutiny ahead of G-7 pandemic talks

President Biden is set to take the global stage this week with a coronavirus vaccine-sharing strategy that has been panned by congressional Democrats and some health advocates as too timid, drawn flak from European allies as too bold and led to frustration within his administration.

t has also prompted a flurry of White House efforts to answer critics, with new announcements to bolster the plan expected ahead of the president’s appearance at the Group of Seven summit in the UK this weekend.

The United States is “working with our G-7 partners on a larger effort to help end the pandemic so that the world’s democracies deliver for people everywhere. And we will have more to say about this at the meeting”, Mr Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters.

The White House has been exploring ways to boost global vaccine supply, and people familiar with the plans say an announcement could be made as soon as this week

The summit – Mr Biden’s first international trip as president – poses multiple diplomatic challenges for a White House seeking to restore the United States’s international lustre amid a pandemic that has rattled the globe and left wealthy nations struggling to meet the scale of the crisis.

Even as the outbreak recedes in the United States, infections have surged in developing countries that lack vaccines, prompting some public health experts and officials to claim rich nations have hoarded doses and fostered “vaccine apartheid”.

Fewer than 2pc of people in Africa have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, compared with more than 50pc in the US and UK.

But Mr Biden, like virtually every political leader, has faced a delicate balancing act addressing the need to vaccinate the world while pushing to get his own country immunised.

Meanwhile, Mr Biden’s surprise push to temporarily waive patent protections for coronavirus vaccines to bolster production in the developing world created new tensions with the EU, which criticised the idea as wrongheaded and inadequate because it would not boost vaccine production for months or even years.

The EU last week offered a counterproposal that would preserve drug companies’ intellectual property in most cases, setting up a showdown with the US.

Mr Biden is also seeking to renew alliances, damaged by President Donald Trump, with health experts lamenting that opportunities to address the global crisis were lost amid his predecessor’s clashes with the World Health Organisation.

And some health, diplomatic and global aid experts inside the government continue to complain that the US strategy remains piecemeal compared with proposals from some global aid groups.

As the G-7 nations prepare to meet, more than 200 prominent figures – including more than 100 former government leaders – this week called for them to spend $44bn (€36bn) to help vaccinate low-income countries.

“It’s time to make a big decision,” said former UK prime minister Gordon Brown, who called on the group’s wealthy member nations to agree a global financing plan, citing a death toll that often tops 10,000 per day.

“It would be a catastrophic, unforgivable moral failure if we did not have a plan to vaccinate the world this weekend,” he said.

Mr Biden is also facing pressure from congressional Democrats, who have praised the president’s commitment to share 80 million doses this month but have warned that rivals such as China and Russia have used vaccine deals with dozens of countries to advance their own interests.

Four Democrats introduced legislation on Tuesday that aims to help vaccinate at least 60pc of the people living in countries eligible to receive vaccine through Covax, the WHO’s initiative to distribute vaccine.

The $34bn (€28bn) proposal would create a new programme to coordinate the US pandemic response, modelled on the global HIV/AIDS programme begun under the George W. Bush administration, according to legislative text shared with The Washington Post.

The White House has acknowledged its current response is insufficient to end the pandemic, with Mr Sullivan and other officials saying they are pursuing plans to donate more US vaccines, help boost global manufacturing capacity and take other steps to lead the world’s coronavirus response. (© Washington Post)

© Washington Post

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