Biden Administration Negotiating Buying 500 Million Pfizer Doses for Overseas

The talks come just in time for a global Covid-19 summit that President Biden will host on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting next week.,

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The Biden administration is negotiating buying another 500 million Pfizer doses to donate overseas.

The United Nations Secretariat Building in New York City. President Biden will convene a summit Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting, the first time that heads of state from around the globe have gathered to address the coronavirus crisis.
The United Nations Secretariat Building in New York City. President Biden will convene a summit Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting, the first time that heads of state from around the globe have gathered to address the coronavirus crisis.Credit…Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times
  • Sept. 17, 2021Updated 2:08 p.m. ET

The Biden administration is negotiating with Pfizer to buy another 500 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to donate overseas, which would bring the total number of planned donations to 1.15 billion doses — about a tenth of the world’s need — according to two people familiar with the plan. It was not immediately clear over what time period the donation would be.

The deal is not yet final, but the talks come just in time for a global Covid-19 summit that Mr. Biden will host on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting next week. The president will use the summit to convince other nations to set aside domestic demands and instead focus on getting vaccine doses to poor countries dependent on donated shots.

Separately, White House officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to preview a formal announcement of the summit later on Friday, said that Mr. Biden’s message to other nations would be that the United States cannot and should not do it alone, and that all nations should honor exiting commitments.

The talks with Pfizer, which were reported without specifics earlier in The Washington Post, also come as Mr. Biden is under fire for proposing booster shots for already vaccinated Americans while citizens of poor nations have not even had their first doses. An expert panel of advisers to the Food and Drug Administration was meeting Friday to discuss Pfizer-BioNTech’s application to make its coronavirus booster shots available in the United States.

Jeff Zients, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, declined to offer specifics on the talks, saying only that how to help the 100 countries that are most in need would be “a big topic of conversation” at the U.N. gathering.

The World Health Organization has asked world leaders to refrain from rolling out boosters at least until the end of the year, with the goal of immunizing 40 percent of the global population first. Its experts, and others, have said a much more aggressive — and comprehensive — approach to fighting the global pandemic is needed.

“A piecemeal approach favors those who can most easily pay,” Dr. Kate O’Brien, the W.H.O.’s top vaccines expert, told reporters earlier this week. Without naming the United States, she noted that some countries are “moving forward with booster programs for which we do not see evidence that would support a need for broad booster programs in the general population. And at the same time, others haven’t even started vaccinating health workers or high risk groups sufficiently.”

The summit, which Mr. Biden plans to convene on Wednesday, will be the largest gathering of heads of state dedicated to addressing the coronavirus crisis. Previous gatherings have included much smaller groups of leaders, like those from the Group of 7 nations.

White House officials said that Mr. Biden aimed to inject a fresh sense of urgency in the fight against the pandemic, as well as to “create a bigger tent” of people and groups committed to ending the pandemic. Pharmaceutical makers, philanthropists and nongovernmental organizations are being invited to participate.

The officials said that Mr. Biden wants to forge consensus around a broad framework for action, including specific targets for vaccination. The officials offered few specifics, saying that the precise goals were still under discussion.

However, the White House sent a draft document to summit invitees earlier this week that called for 70 percent of the world’s population to be vaccinated by the time the U.N. gathers again in September of next year.

Experts have estimated that 11 billion doses are necessary to achieve broad global immunity to the coronavirus. The United States has already committed to sending more than 600 million doses abroad, and is working to scale up manufacturing in this country and overseas, particularly in India.

But global health advocates say donating doses is not enough. They want Mr. Biden to work to create manufacturing hubs in many other countries and to press vaccine makers to share their technology as part of a far-reaching plan similar to the one former President George W. Bush created to address the global AIDS epidemic.

The White House officials who discussed Mr. Biden’s summit plan insisted the United States can do both. In an interview earlier this week, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Mr. Biden’s top adviser for the coronavirus — and a driving force behind Mr. Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — said the administration was committed to doing more.

“We’re trying to figure out what is the best way to get a really fully impactful program going,” Dr. Fauci said, noting that building manufacturing plants overseas might be a reasonable step to prepare for any future pandemics, but could not happen quickly enough to end this one. “We want to do more, but we’re trying to figure out what the proper and best approach is.”

Reaching specific global vaccination targets has so far proven difficult. Covax, the U.N.-backed vaccine distribution program, announced this month that it would not be able to meet its forecast for doses available in 2021. So far, only 20 percent of people in poor and middle-income nations have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.

At the same time, much of the world’s vaccine supply comes from China, whose vaccines are generally regarded as less effective than those used in the United States.

Part of the global vaccine shortage stems from potential donor countries’ domestic needs. Some nations in Asia have imposed tariffs and other trade restrictions on Covid vaccines that slow their delivery overseas. India has banned exports of Covid vaccines, preventing distributions of doses from the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker.

At a briefing with reporters earlier this week, Loyce Pace, who heads the office of global affairs at the federal Department of Health and Human Services, made particular note of the administration’s work with India to lift the export ban.

“We continue to work with the government of India in particular, on their trajectory of helping produce the world vaccines,” Ms. Pace said.

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