The US government is investing $400 million in a new program to help countries get vaccines to their citizens quickly, an effort fueled by fears that the Delta and Omicron variants will trigger another wave of cases.
The United States Agency for International Development said in a statement Monday that the program, called the Initiative for Global Vaccine Access, would “improve international coordination” to help countries “overcome barriers to vaccine access.”
“As more vaccines flow to low- and middle-income countries, the United States and other donors must redouble their efforts to help countries,” the statement said, adding that the agency would focus on countries in Africa.
Three-quarters of the money goes to administering vaccines in remote areas and helping countries with vaccine policies and supply chain logistics, the agency said.
The rest of the money will be used to help areas where cases are rising and to help countries produce vaccines locally, the agency said.
The statement said the new funds were in addition to the $1.3 billion already committed. Experts said that, in addition to donating vaccines, it is important for wealthier countries to help other countries invest in vaccine infrastructure. However, one expert said the program, Global Vax for short, was not quite enough.
“It’s not nearly enough to massively ramp up global vaccination, but it’s a milestone,” said Lawrence O. Gostin, a law professor at Georgetown University who specializes in public health.
The new program comes amid criticism that Covax, the UN-backed billion-dollar alliance, has failed to achieve its goal of acquiring doses for poor countries. The alliance includes international health agencies and non-profit organizations whose goal is to ensure that poor countries get vaccines just as quickly as the rich through sheer purchasing power.
It is said to be a global powerhouse, but has instead endured months of missteps and disappointments. The alliance is struggling to get doses of airport tarmac into people’s arms.
Biden administration officials say several African countries, most notably South Africa, are now rejecting vaccine donations because their supply exceeds demand — in part because of the hesitation to get vaccines. But global public health experts say there’s another reason: Some countries aren’t equipped to distribute and administer the doses they receive, which often arrive at short notice.
The urgent need to vaccinate the world goes far beyond protecting people in poor countries. The longer the virus circulates, the more dangerous it can become, even for vaccinated people in wealthy countries.
Without billions of extra doses, experts warn, new variants could keep appearing, putting all countries at risk.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg reporting contributed.