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White House plans to donate 80 million COVID-19 vaccine doses internationally

The U.S. will donate 75 percent of its unused COVID-19 vaccine doses to nations in need. The Biden administration announced Thursday its plan to ship 80 million doses by month's end to countries around the world. Nick Schifrin reports, and speaks to the State Department coordinator in charge of the effort.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported, the administration announced today that it will donate much of its unused COVID-19 vaccines to countries in need around the world.

    Nick Schifrin spoke a short time ago to the State Department coordinator in charge of the effort.

    And we just want to alert you that there were some technical difficulties.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The administration says it will donate 25 million vaccines immediately; 19 million, or 75 percent, will go to COVAX, the U.N.-led effort to vaccinate the world. Of that, six million will go to Central and South America, seven million to Asia, and five million to Africa.

    The other six million being allocated today will be donated bilaterally to hard-hit areas such as India, the West Bank and Gaza, and allies and partners, such as Canada, Mexico, Egypt, and Iraq.

    Echoing the world's scientists, the president said today, as long as this pandemic is raging anywhere in the world, the American people will still be vulnerable. By the end of June, the U.S. promises to donate 80 million doses.

    To talk about this announcement and the administration's policy on sharing vaccines, I'm joined by Gayle Smith, the State Department's coordinator for global COVID response and health security.

    Gayle Smith, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    The administration has had dozens of requests all over the world for vaccines. Why are you making this announcement now?

  • Gayle Smith:

    Well, the president announced last month that we would be donating 80 million vaccines, and that came on top of a pledge from him to the American people that, once he felt that we were safely on the path to an effective vaccination program in the United States, we would begin to share doses.

    This 25 million is the first tranche of those 80 million doses.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    A couple of groups, including one you used to lead, have critiqued your announcement.

    The first statement I'm going to read is from the ONE Campaign — quote — "The world is looking to the U.S. for global leadership, and more ambition is needed."

    And Doctors Without Borders said today: "The 80 million doses the U.S. has promised to share barely scratches the surface of what's needed. This is an emergency and the U.S. government must act with the urgency it merits."

    Why not more urgency and why not more generosity?

  • Gayle Smith:

    Well, I think we certainly share the urgency and the commitment to generosity.

    This first tranche of donated doses comes on top of a robust commitment to COVAX, the platform that you just mentioned, of $2 billion. There's more funding for COVAX coming down the road, and a very, very ambitious global response plan led by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

    As the president said when he announced this, that we intend to lead in a global response. We can't do it alone, so we're also leveraging the support of other partners.

    But this is not our only move on vaccines. There's the support to COVAX. We are working with producers to produce more in this year, also investing through our Development Finance Corporation and local manufacture that will bring vaccines online, we hope, by the last quarter of this year.

    So, we have got the ambition. This is the (AUDIO GAP)

  • Nick Schifrin:

    I think there's an acknowledgment, of course, that the U.S. needs to be vaccinated.

    But let me just ask you about Europe, for an example. The European Union has exported more than 160 million doses of vaccine. That's actually more than it's administered inside of Europe. So, with all due respect, couldn't the U.S. be more generous than it is being today?

  • Gayle Smith:

    Well, we have got companies that are exporting now. So I think that's already out there.

    And I think, when you look at a response plan that is over $10 billion, you look at us being by far in the lead on sharing doses — and, again, this is the beginning — our investments in manufacture, I think we are on the path to leading this global effort.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today's announcement does not include the 60 million AstraZeneca doses…

  • Gayle Smith:

    Right.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    … which no American may ever get, that are in the United States.

    Can you donate those as well?

  • Gayle Smith:

    That is the plan. We are waiting for clearance from the FDA. We want to make sure that any vaccines we share are fully safe.

    And, as soon as we get that, yes, we're going to share those 60 million doses.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    I was talking to some people who support your decision today. And they urge this to be the beginning, as you have said.

  • Gayle Smith:

    Yes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Are you committing that not only the 25 million but the 80 million doses that you have committed by the end of June will just be the first step?

  • Gayle Smith:

    It's the first part of a multipronged strategy.

    And, yes, we intend to be doing much more. Again, we're going to work with allies. We have the G7 summit coming up. And as the president has said, we're prepared to lead. We can't do it alone. We intend to do it with others.

    But we are looking to achieve much greater scale.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And how can you urge those allies, including those in the G7, whom you're meeting just in a few weeks, to accelerate their ability to donate to COVAX, to donate vaccines that they don't need to the rest of the world?

  • Gayle Smith:

    Well, I think many of them are.

    We have had some recent announcements, including support for COVAX, additional funding there, and also some commitments to increase dose sharing. Our aim is to rise and increase the commitment from almost all of us.

    And, so far, I would say the progress is quite good.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Gayle Smith, thank you very much.

  • Gayle Smith:

    Thanks so much for having me.

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