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A health worker walks through the courtyard during the Covid-19 vaccination campaign on May 05, 2021 in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. The central African country received 1.7 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine through the U.N.-led COVAX facility in March. (Photo: Guerchom Ndebo/Getty Images)

A health worker walks through the courtyard during the Covid-19 vaccination campaign on May 05, 2021 in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. The central African country received 1.7 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine through the U.N.-led COVAX facility in March. (Photo: Guerchom Ndebo/Getty Images)

'Bucket of Water' vs. 'Raging Inferno': Critics Say Biden's Global Vaccine Donation Not Nearly Enough

"Twenty million is a depressingly tiny figure compared to the global need," said one expert.

Andrea Germanos

The Biden administration is being urged to take broader action and "deploy every tool" in its arsenal to help end the coronavirus pandemic after the White House announced Monday it would send 20 million doses of U.S.-authorized vaccines to nations in need.

Those doses, to be sent by the end of next month, are in addition to the 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not yet authorized by the FDA, the U.S. already pledged.

"We know America will never be fully safe until the pandemic that is raging globally is under control," President Joe Biden said in remarks from the White House.

"We need to help fight the disease around the world to keep us safe here at home and to do the right thing of helping other people," he said. "It's the right thing to do. It's the smart thing to do. It's the strong thing to do."

Biden asserted the donated vaccines would not be used to curry favor with other nations and said the U.S. "will work with COVAX—the international organization that's set up—and other partners to ensure that the vaccines are delivered in a way that is equitable and that follows the science and the public health data."

Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines program, put Monday's announcement in the context of continued vaccine inequity in a world where less than 1% of low-income countries have access to vaccines. 

"Twenty million is a depressingly tiny figure compared to the global need; akin to tossing a bucket of water at a raging inferno," Maybarduk said in a statement Monday. He also pointed to virus hotspot India, which on Tuesday recorded over 260,000 new Covid-19 cases.

"If India were to receive all 20 million doses, it would vaccinate less than 1% of its population, beyond what it has already," said Maybarduk.

"Communities around the world have no idea when, or if, the vaccine they desperately need to protect their people from death and further suffering from the coronavirus will arrive," he said.

While Maybarduk welcomed Biden's donation pledge, he said the additional doses were "no substitute for a plan of scale and ambition to end the pandemic."

He also reiterated the call Public Citizen, along with a coalition of 66 global health, development, and humanitarian groups, made last month to boost global vaccine manufacturing with a $25 billion investment and to "share those vaccine recipes with the world."

The donation was also criticized as "woefully short" by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which pointed to the United States' massive stockpile that would allow for "more than half a billion surplus vaccines left over" after vaccinating the population.

"Allowing unused vaccines to sit on shelves while people all over the world continue to live in constant fear of being infected isn't just wrong, it's dangerous," Dr. Carrie Teicher, director of programs at MSF-USA, said in a statement.

Along with sharing more vaccines, Teicher said "the Biden-Harris Administration must demand that pharmaceutical corporations that received public funding to develop Covid-19 vaccines transfer the information and technology needed for other manufacturers to help scale up the production of mRNA vaccines globally."

The Congressional Progressive Caucus similarly urged the Biden administration to exercise its authority to further increase the global supply of vaccines.

"To truly address the scale of the global crisis, we must work quickly and deploy every tool in our arsenal," said CPC chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

"Specifically," Jayapal continued, "this should include continuing to release more of our stockpile—immediately investing an additional $25 billion to manufacture vaccines domestically and provide them to the world."

"We must also leverage U.S. patent ownership over vaccine innovations to license their widespread production while cooperating with the World Health Organization's program to transfer vaccine technology to global producers," she said, and "support a new issuance of Special Drawing Rights, a cost-free IMF reserve asset, to strengthen public-health budgets worldwide and assist low-income countries in carrying out vaccination campaigns."

"It is clearer than ever that the fate of our own health and safety in the U.S. is inextricably connected to the well-being and protection of the most vulnerable among us worldwide," said Jayapal. "With cases and deaths on the rise around the world, there is no time—or resource—to waste."

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