ST IVES, England, June 10 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden will announce plans on Thursday to buy and donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to more than 90 countries, while calling on the world’s democracies to do their part to help end the deadly pandemic, the White House said.
Biden will announce the vaccine donation - the largest ever by a single country - ahead of his meeting with leaders of the other Group of Seven advanced economies - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan - in Cornwall, England.
The Democratic president arrived in England late Wednesday for his first overseas trip since taking office. The eight-day mission aims to rebuild trans-Atlantic ties and reframe relations with Russia after four rocky years of tariffs and withdrawal from treaties under Republican former President Donald Trump.
“The goal of today’s donation is to save lives and end the pandemic and will provide the foundation for additional actions to be announced in the coming days,” the White House said. No further details about the pending announcements were provided.
The donation, first reported on Wednesday, was negotiated over the past four weeks by White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients and the coronavirus task force team, a source familiar with the matter said.
It is meant to “supercharge the global fight against the pandemic,” the White House said.
The pandemic has killed about 3.9 million people around the world, with the infection reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.
The new donations come on top of some 80 million doses Washington has already pledged to donate by the end of June, and $2 billion in funding earmarked for the COVAX program led by the World Health Organization and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, the White House said.
They will be part of the total U.S. commitment of $4 billion to COVAX announced earlier this year, a White House official said.
Washington is also taking steps to support local production of COVID-19 vaccines in other countries, including through its Quad initiative with Japan, India and Australia.
“President Biden has been clear that borders cannot keep this pandemic at bay and has vowed that our nation will be the arsenal of vaccines,” the White House said.
The U.S. donations will go through the COVAX program to 92 low- and lower middle-income countries and the African Union, with 200 million doses to be delivered by the end of the year, and the rest in the first half of 2022. Shipments will begin in August, the White House said.
Pfizer plans to produce the half a billion doses at its facilities in Kalamazoo, Michigan; McPherson, Kansas; Chesterfield, Missouri; and Andover, Massachusetts, the White House said.
CNBC reported on Wednesday that the United States is also talking with Moderna Inc about buying some of its shots to donate to other countries.
A Moderna spokesperson said the company is interested in providing the U.S. government with COVID-19 shots for low- and middle-income countries, but declined to comment on any talks.
Biden’s announcement comes amid mounting pressure for the United States, which has now given at least one shot to around 64% of its adult population, to boost donations of COVID-19 shots to other countries that are desperately seeking doses.
Top officials at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank warned that huge disparities in vaccination rates could prolong the pandemic, slowing a global economic recovery, and raising the risk that more deadly - and potentially vaccine-resistant - variants will emerge. Vaccination rates are in the single digits in many poorer countries.
The administration is also using the U.S. vaccine supply as a tool to counter Chinese and Russian vaccine diplomacy, although U.S. officials have been adamant that the U.S. donations will not require any favors or concessions.
Pfizer has said it expects to produce as many as 3 billion COVID-19 shots in 2021 and upwards of 4 billion next year. (Reporting by Steve Holland in St. Ives, England, and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler)