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Campaigners have urged countries to speed up Covid vaccine donations as US president Joe Biden challenged world leaders to ensure that 70 per cent of the world is vaccinated within a year.
At a global vaccine summit taking place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the US president announced “historic” plans to donate an additional 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccines to the 92 poorest countries, via the Covax vaccine sharing initiative.
This brings the US’s total commitment to 1.1 billion - more donations than the rest of the world combined.
Mr Biden said: “For every one shot we've administered to date in America, we’ve now committed three to the rest of the world.”
He added: "This is an all-hands-on-deck crisis. America will become the arsenal for vaccines as we were the arsenal for democracy in World War II."
The pledge from Mr Biden comes with no “political” strings attached - seen as a dig at countries such as China and Russia, who have been engaging in vaccine diplomacy with countries around the world.
“We’re not going to solve this crisis with half measures or middle of the road ambitions. We need to go big, and we need to do our part,” he added.
Mr Biden, who invited heads of state, leaders of international organisations, private sector philanthropies and NGOs for the virtual summit, said richer countries should ensure that 70 per cent of the world is vaccinated by September 2022.
The European Union also committed to donating 500 million doses - a slight increase from its earlier announced plans - according to a joint statement with the US.
"We call for nations that are able to vaccinate their populations to double their dose-sharing commitments or to make meaningful contributions to vaccine readiness," the statement said.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, told the summit he wanted an "ironclad commitment" to support the vaccination of at least 40 per cent of the population of every country by the end of December and 70 per cent by mid-2022.
"To reach that target, we need two billion doses for low- and lower- middle income countries, right now," he said.
So far, less than four per cent of people in Africa have been vaccinated, compared to around 60 per cent in richer countries.
According to Airfinity, a science data analytics company, the US’s additional pledge of 500 million doses will go some way to helping low and middle income countries meet their targets for vaccinating 70 per cent of their populations.
However, no date has been set for when the doses will be distributed and previous analysis by the company showed that at least 50 per cent of these doses would need to be donated in 2021 in order for the 70 per cent target to be met.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance - a key partner in the Covax - said donations needed to be shared more quickly, at larger volumes and in a more predictable manner.
“Currently these are shared in low volumes, at short notice, and with shorter than ideal expiry dates – making it a huge logistical lift to allocate and deliver these to countries able to absorb them.”
The WHO says only 15 per cent of promised donations of vaccines have been delivered. It has said it wants countries to fulfil their dose-sharing pledges "immediately" and make shots available for programmes that benefit poor countries and Africa in particular.
Analysis by Our World in Data, a research hub based at Oxford University, showed richer countries’ seemingly generous pledges to Covax have so far not been fulfilled.
The UK has delivered just seven per cent of the 80 million doses it promised to Covax - although it has given some vaccines directly to countries. The US has delivered just over 25 per cent of the nearly 300 million doses it had promised through the scheme.
Dr Joanna Rea, director of advocacy at Unicef UK, welcomed the commitments made at the summit.
"However, with a widening gap in vaccine access between rich and low-income countries and ongoing threats of the spread of variants, more needs to be done and vaccines shared sooner - and we know this is possible," she said.
Oxfam America’s president and CEO, Abby Maxman, said there was no effective plan to meet the goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of the world.
“While every additional life-saving vaccine dose is welcome, the 500 million additional doses President Biden just committed are still a drop in the bucket compared to the urgent need across the world," she said,
And Dr Tom Kenyon, chief health officer at Project HOPE and former director of global programmes at the US Centers for Disease Control, also called for a faster vaccine roll out.
“While the newly announced target of vaccinating 70 per cent of the world's population by United Nations General Assembly 2022 is good, taking a whole year to achieve that goal while the virus and variants keep spreading is not aggressive enough.
“Now is the time to address our shortfalls with urgency, not long-lead plans that will take many years to realise. Millions of lives remain at risk while new variants and new pandemics are just around the corner," he said.
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