Biden, Johnson to Rally G-7 for Vaccine Push After U.S. Hoarding
(Bloomberg) -- Joe Biden’s first overseas trip as president will focus on bolstering the availability of Western coronavirus vaccines abroad -- a bid to both counter China and calm tensions with allies who’ve been at odds with the U.S. over its hoarding of shots and intellectual property rights.
Biden departs Wednesday for the Group of Seven summit in the U.K., leaving the U.S., where the pandemic is receding, to discuss how the world’s richest democracies can help the rest of the world snuff out the virus. Both Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson aim to rally the G-7 behind a plan to make more shots available to low-income countries.
Biden and Johnson will meet for the first time on Thursday, before the G-7.
The summit will be a show of unity after the group’s members spent much of the year at odds over vaccines. Biden riled Europe by continuing Trump-era policies that directed almost all early U.S. vaccine production into American arms, and by throwing his support behind a push from lower-income countries to waive certain patent protections for the shots.
While the G-7 countries are sure to agree on the need for more shots, the specifics of what they’ll propose or how it will be funded remains unclear. Johnson has called for a goal of vaccinating the world by the end of 2022, while Biden has said the U.S. would be an “arsenal” of vaccines for the rest of the globe but has so far committed just 25 million doses of the American government’s stockpile.
“The U.S. is headed into the G-7 in a position of strength,” Jeff Zients, Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said in a statement. About 47% of the U.S. population is vaccinated, according to the Bloomberg Covid-10 Tracker, and cases are falling while the economy is recovering.
“The president will use this momentum to rally the world’s democracies around solving this crisis globally, with America leading the way to create the arsenal of vaccines that will be critical in our global fight against Covid-19,” Zients said.
Biden aides have previewed his European trip as focused on “three C’s” -- Covid-19, China and climate change. After the G-7, Biden will attend NATO and European Union summits in Brussels before meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.
End the Pandemic
At the G-7, “he will join with his fellow leaders to lay out a plan to end the Covid-19 pandemic with further specific commitments toward that end,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday.
Vaccine makers have already pledged to make more than a billion doses available this year to low- and middle-income countries. But wealthy nations gobbled up early supplies, and it’s not yet clear how doses will be distributed going forward.
Some countries are receiving doses through Covax, a World Health Organization initiative that relies in part on donations, while others have ordered directly from manufacturers or are receiving shipments from the U.S. or other wealthy nations.
“I would like to see the largest contribution we can out of the G-7, because I think the doses are going to be available,” said Thomas Bollyky, director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The big issue is really going to be the allocation -- where do these doses go?”
Vaccine access has been a thorny issue for Biden, who carried on facets of President Donald Trump’s “America First” approach to combating the pandemic while also pledging to re-establish the U.S. as a leader on the global stage. Trump and Biden both used wartime powers that gave priority to U.S. government orders for shots, meaning that the first hundreds of millions of doses made on U.S. soil went to Americans.
But the U.S. has also backed efforts at the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property protections for vaccines, a proposal from lower-income countries in order to make it cheaper for them to manufacture shots themselves.
The waiver is opposed by European leaders, who urged Biden to instead share doses immediately from his country’s own stockpile to help satisfy global demand.
Discussion over the waiver looks poised to languish at the consensus-based WTO.
“It’s going nowhere, which is of course what the Europeans wanted -- and, if you wanted to be cynical, maybe the Biden administration knew that was going to happen from the beginning,” said Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.
That has relegated the simmering issue to a “footnote” in international talks, which instead will focus on how to steer a coming wave of production and who should pay for it, he added.
80 Million Doses
“In some ways, the road map in terms of production capacity is clear -- there’s going to be a lot of production capacity in a few months that’s ready to supply the world, because both the U.S. and Europe will be done by then,” he said. “How do you get out of that situation, where essentially the rich are vaccinated but the rest are not?”
Biden has said that the world’s democracies should lead a push to boost supply and to share it on the basis of need, while criticizing China and Russia for a transactional brand of vaccine diplomacy.
Only recently have U.S.-made vaccines begun leaving the country. Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. have begun directly exporting U.S.-made doses, in addition to Biden’s announcement that the U.S. government would donate a first tranche of 25 million shots to an assortment of allies and lower-income countries.
Biden has pledged to donate a total of 80 million doses before the end of the month, though that depends on the availability of AstraZeneca Plc shots, manufactured in the U.S. but not approved for use in the country, that are undergoing a safety review.
And Biden has only begun donating U.S. shots as domestic demand plunged: The country’s daily vaccination rate has fallen by two-thirds since mid-April.
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