The United States has finally turned the corner on the pandemic, thanks to the widespread availability of vaccines.
But in much of the rest of the world, vaccines are scarce and cases and deaths are spiking, highlighting harsh disparities between higher- and lower-income countries.
While the United States has announced plans to donate more than 500 million vaccine doses abroad, advocates and experts say that is far from enough, and are pushing the Biden administration, as well as the leaders of other wealthy countries, to do more.
Less than 2 percent of people in Africa are fully vaccinated, the World Health Organization said, while noting that the continent suffered “its worst pandemic week ever” this week. Africa recorded more than 250,000 new COVID-19 cases in the week ending July 4, the WHO said, up 20 percent from the previous week.
In Indonesia, the humanitarian organization Project HOPE reports that hospitals are overwhelmed and are building tents to care for patients as bed capacity is filled.
“Sick patients are just waiting for new deaths so they can even have a chance of making it inside a hospital,” the group’s executive director for Indonesia, Edhie Rahmat, said in a statement.
Worldwide, there are about 8,000 new COVID-19 deaths every day, according to Our World in Data.
The more transmissible delta variant adds even more fuel to the fire, allowing outbreaks to grow faster.
“It’s a really scary moment and if nothing changes it’s going to be a really terrible situation,” said Rachel Silverman, policy fellow at the Center for Global Development.
In addition to helping people in other countries, experts say it is also in the interest of the United States and other wealthy countries to slow the pandemic globally, so that new variants of the virus, which could eventually potentially evade vaccines, have less chance to develop.
“If we continue to let the pandemic rage in different parts of the world, we're going to continuously develop new variants and that will be a constant threat,” said Sten Vermund, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health.
President BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrat threatens to vote against party's spending bill if HBCUs don't get more federal aid Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden's immigration woes MORE last month announced the U.S. would donate more than 500 million vaccine doses to other countries, and the Group of Seven countries agreed to provide more than 1 billion doses. Experts and advocates praised those efforts, but said far more is needed to vaccinate the world.
“Proportionally to the magnitude of the crisis ... it’s just wildly short of where the U.S. and other global leaders should be,” said Jenny Ottenhoff, senior policy director, global health at the One Campaign.
She noted that more than half of the 500 million dose donation from the U.S. is scheduled to be sent next year, which she called “just too late.” She said it is hard for outside advocates to know exactly how many more doses the U.S. could be donating, though, without the visibility into the coming manufacturing pipeline that the government has.
In addition to donating doses already in the pipeline, advocates are calling for wealthy countries like the U.S. to play a greater role in increasing global vaccine manufacturing capacity, to make more total doses available.
The U.S. has already taken some steps on that front, with the White House saying last month that efforts from the “Quad” countries (U.S., Japan, Australia and India), as well as support from the International Development Finance Corporation, will allow the manufacturing of more than 1 billion doses in India and Africa across this year and next.
The advocacy group Public Citizen is calling for a further effort of a $25 billion investment in vaccine manufacturing, which it says could produce 8 billion doses in the next 12 months.
Asked about calls to expand global vaccine efforts beyond the one billion doses pledged by the G-7, White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiOvernight Health Care — FDA panel backs boosters for some, but not all White House to host global COVID-19 summit next week Overnight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France MORE acknowledged that more is needed, while also pointing to efforts already underway.
“You're absolutely right that there are more doses needed beyond the billion,” Psaki told reporters. “I would note that the United States is far and away the largest contributor in the world to the fight against the pandemic, including specific doses of vaccines.”
“The president has made clear that we will continue to build from here, and we're working on manufacturing capacity around the world and in the United States and we will continue to contribute even beyond the billion doses,” she added.
World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke out against inequalities between countries when it comes to vaccinations Wednesday.
“Vaccine nationalism, where a handful of nations have taken the lion’s share, is morally indefensible and an ineffective public health strategy against a respiratory virus that is mutating quickly and becoming increasingly effective at moving from human-to-human,” Tedros said. “At this stage in the pandemic, the fact that millions of health and care workers have still not been vaccinated is abhorrent.”
Silverman, of the Center for Global Development, noted that vaccinating the most vulnerable 10 percent in a wide range of countries, while far from a perfect solution, would at least blunt the number of deaths.
“If you can vaccinate the 10 percent of people most at risk in all these countries, you can really cut down the mortality and morbidity,” she said. “You can take the edge off the devastation.”