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President Biden on Thursday announced a plan to donate more than 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to nearly 100 poorer countries around the world that he described as "a monumental commitment by the American people." Jeff Zients, the White House COVID response coordinator, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.
Jeff Zients is the White House COVID-19 response coordinator. And I spoke with him earlier about the president's historic announcement.
Jeff Zients, thank you very much for joining us.
So, 500 million doses is a lot. I guess that's 250 million people, two doses a person. We know people are dying from this virus every day. I saw 10,000 just yesterday. So, the question is, how soon is this going to get into the arms of the people who need it? And how much of a dent is it going to make overall?
You are right to focus on, how does vaccine become the vaccination? In other words, how do you get needles in arms?
There are strong plans in each of the recipient countries to make sure that the vaccines become shots in arms as soon as possible ,so that we can save lives. The 500 million doses today is in addition to the 80 million doses that the president announced a few weeks ago that we're sharing from our U.S. supply of vaccines. And we will continue to share additional supply across the summer months.
You know, the U.S. is leading here. Other G7 countries and democracies are also donating doses. So, this is a U.S.-led effort to vaccinate the world as soon as possible.
And I want to ask you about that, but, in terms of the numbers, 200 million doses this year, 300 million next year.
Are those numbers driven by the Pfizer production capacity or by the U.S. budget, what the U.S. can afford now?
No, we were — we want doses as fast as possible. So, the 200 million doses was a term that was very important to us to get doses into this year. And that's the maximum that Pfizer could provide this year, and the 300 million will be delivered no later than the end of the first half of 2020.
Jeff Zients, there is a question about the Pfizer vaccine, and that is, this is a vaccine that has to be kept very cold.
What about it — was there consideration given to another vaccine that could perhaps be distributed in many more places that doesn't — that don't have cold storage?
Well, this is not mutually exclusive. You know, the Pfizer vaccine is the mRNA technology, which is proven to be a very effective and very safe vaccine, importantly, effective against all the variants. So it's important that we get those vaccines out to the world as soon as possible.
Just this week, we have been shipping Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and we will do the same with Moderna from that 80 million that I described earlier of U.S. supply that the president committed to getting out the door by the end of June.
And, as I said, we will continue to ship from our U.S. supply across the summer months. And this 500 million coming online in August will really make a big difference for the world.
The president has said, Jeff Zients, no strings attached.
But we know, now that China and Russia have given a lot of vaccine to different — many countries around the world, could this be seen as a kind of vaccine diplomacy?
I think the president repeated it twice, no strings attached, no strings attached. This is being done for humanitarian reasons and to protect our own self-interests here at home.
Well, let me just pick up on the question about what more the U.S. can do, because you hear from health — global health, public health advocates that it's all well and good to give the vaccine away, but what's needed is production capacity in the countries that could possibly stand it up.
How much is the U.S. doing to help other countries manufacture their own vaccine?
Well, the Quad Partnership, which was announced a couple of months ago, which involves Japan, Australia, India, and the United States, is about creating capacity for a billion doses.
We're doing — supporting efforts in South Africa and other parts of the world. So, you're right. It's not just about U.S. manufacturing. It's also about building these capabilities across the globe. And we will continue those efforts, as well as continuing to bring as many doses forward from our U.S. manufacturing capacity and from the U.S. supply of doses.
And two other questions.
One has to do with intellectual property laws. The United States is saying, let's waive those and let other countries have some of the know-how for how to make these vaccines. But not all of our allies in Europe feel the same way.
Do you see that staying?
Go ahead. I mean, how can that be overcome, do you think?
Well, as, I mean, the president — the president has made his position on this crystal clear.
This is a once-in-a-century pandemic, an extraordinary situation that's cost millions of lives, and it needs an extraordinary response. And that's why he is in favor of the TRIPS waiver. And he will — he's made that clear. And while that's being worked through, we're doing everything we can to encourage companies to transfer technology and know-how to partners across the world.
And last question.
We know so much progress has been made here in the United States, and yet only, what, 42 percent of Americans right now are fully vaccinated. There's growing worry about this Delta variant. Is there clearly enough vaccine for all Americans when the time comes for them to have it?
Well, of adult Americans, 64 percent have received at least one shot, and about 54 percent are fully vaccinated.
And we have sufficient supply for all Americans to get vaccinated. And we will always maintain that supply. And I would encourage anyone who's not vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible. If you are fully vaccinated, you are protected. If you're not, then you are not protected. And you're also putting your loved ones, colleagues, friends at risk.
So, please get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Jeff Zients, who is President Biden's coronavirus response coordinator, thank you very much, joining us from Cornwall, England.
Thank you, Judy.
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