US COVID-19 vaccine donations are not enough to end the pandemic

Lebanon - COVID-19 Vaccination

Lebanon 2021 © Mohamad Cheblak/MSF

NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 22, 2021—The Biden Administration’s announcement that it will purchase 500 million additional doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for COVAX—the global initiative that aims to deliver COVID-19 vaccines based on public health needs—is a welcome step that will help vaccinate 250 million people worldwide. The need for doses is immediate, however, and these doses won’t begin shipping until next year. The US must also transfer its own excess doses—many of which will soon go to waste if they aren’t rapidly redistributed.   

As important as donations are in the short term, they alone are not enough to end this pandemic. The US government must demand Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna share COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology and know-how so other able manufacturers can make additional mRNA vaccines and meet the global needs. It must also remain committed and urge all countries to support the "TRIPS waiver" proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive intellectual property monopolies on all COVID-19 products during the pandemic. 

Dr. Carrie Teicher, director of programs for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-USA, said of the announcement:

“As only two percent of people in the poorest countries have received even one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the US’ decision to purchase and donate 500 million additional doses is welcome news. They must now get these doses—and more of the 593 million excess doses the US will have by the end of the year—out the door and into the arms of people in low and middle-income countries.

“At MSF, we see each and every day that people all over the world remain in desperate need of COVID-19 vaccines, including health care workers and people who are the most vulnerable to becoming seriously ill if they contract the virus. 

“Donations alone aren’t enough to end this pandemic. The vast majority of lofty donation pledges haven’t materialized so far; only 15 percent of the more than 1 billion doses pledged by wealthy governments have arrived in Africa. It’s unfathomable that millions more people are going to die waiting for vaccines just because of where they live. 

“To stop this reliance on pharmaceutical corporations that receive significant taxpayer funding but still get to decide what volume of vaccines they produce, what prices they set, and who they sell them to first—as well as donors that might not follow through with their commitments—it’s critical for the US to help other countries and regions become as self-sufficient as possible in addressing their own health needs. 

“The US must help dramatically scale up mRNA vaccine production globally—like through the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub in South Africa—by demanding that pharmaceutical corporations share the technology and know-how for mRNA vaccines so that many more manufacturers globally can produce these lifesaving vaccines. 

“The US must also support efforts to eliminate intellectual property barriers on all COVID-19 products, by remaining fully committed to the WTO ‘TRIPS waiver.’ 

“The only way to end this pandemic anywhere is to end it everywhere.”