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Friday, May 20th, 2022

Democratic lawmakers urge White House to expand U.S. vaccine production, distribution globally

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In a letter drafted in advance of the COVID-19 international summit being hosted by President Joe Biden, a group of United States senators and representatives pressed the president this week to commit resources to advancing vaccination efforts worldwide.

The urging from members of Biden’s own party comes as the U.S., Pfizer and BioNTech announced an agreement to produce and deliver another 500 million doses of vaccine to developing nations, bringing the total U.S. donations — bought at not-for-profit price — to approximately 1 billion. Such efforts are precisely what the senators were seeking.

“According to experts, 11 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses are needed to vaccinate 70 percent of the global population and significantly reduce the spread of the virus,” the senators wrote. “So far, 5.82 billion doses have been administered globally, but less than 2 percent of the population living in low-income countries received even one dose. Clearly, there is an inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine doses, and it is getting worse. Despite promises and pledges from some wealthy countries to donate nearly 1 billion doses to the global effort, only 15 percent of those donations have actually been distributed.”

Members involved in the effort include U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Edward Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and U.S. Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) and Mark Pocan (D-WI).

In their letter, the lawmakers also pointed to the latest 2021 forecast from COVAX — a global vaccination effort run by Gavi, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) — which said COVID-19 doses available for distribution would likely be reduced from 1.9 billion to 1.4 billion. Leaving other nations vulnerable runs the risk of worse variants of the virus emerging, the lawmakers agreed, and inevitably, affecting the U.S. as well.

“Beyond the immediate public health implications, the U.S. economy could lose as much as $4.5 trillion as a result of the lack of global economic output if this pandemic continues,” the members wrote. “Furthermore, recent polling indicates that over two-thirds of Americans support the U.S. investing in global COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing and distribution. By taking additional meaningful steps to promote vaccinations around the world, we will not only help end this pandemic, but we will continue to enhance the United States’ global leadership.”

The lawmakers seek a detailed, whole-of-government plan to increase global vaccine access.