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U.S. Government to Donate 500 Million COVID-19 Vaccines

Illustration of a COVID-19 vaccine shipment.

santima.studio / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • The United States government will purchase 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and donate them to low- and lower-middle-income countries.
  • This donation won't affect vaccine availability in the U.S., experts say.
  • While this is the largest-ever purchase and donation of vaccines by a single country, more efforts are needed to get the globe vaccinated.

Last week, the Biden administration announced that they will be purchasing half a billion doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and donating them to 92 low- and lower-middle-income countries and the African Union.

It serves as a commitment to beat the global pandemic by helping to vaccinate other countries, especially now that 65% of adult Americans have already received at least one shot since the start of the vaccination rollout.

Shipping will begin in August 2021, with the goal of delivering 200 million doses by the end of the year and the remaining 300 million doses by early 2022. This initiative marks the largest-ever purchase and donation of vaccines by a single country.

Why Allocate Millions of Vaccine Doses to Other Countries? 

There are two main reasons why the U.S. should purchase and donate vaccines to other countries, William Moss, MD, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Verywell.

To Provide Humanitarian Aid

First, donating these life-saving COVID-19 vaccines can help prevent the deaths of millions of people around the world, Moss says.

Sharing doses of Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccines—which have proven to be effective against all COVID-19 variants—increases vaccine availability for vulnerable groups in lower-income countries.

As of May 2021, more than 1.1 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally, but only 0.3% of those were in low-income countries. Meanwhile, over 80% were administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries.

This glaring disparity highlights the importance of increasing global vaccine supply and directing them to nations that have vaccinated only a small percentage of their entire population.

“Although we started feeling it is almost back to normalcy in the U.S. where we are lucky to have been vaccinated, it is still out of control in other places,” Inci Yildirim, MD, vaccinologist and pediatric infectious disease specialist at Yale Medicine and associate professor at Yale School of Medicine, tells Verywell.

To Protect Americans

“The second [reason] is based on self-interest to prevent the virus from being imported into the U.S. and to minimize the emergence of more transmissible and more virulent virus strains that can escape immune protection conferred by our current vaccines,” Moss says. “We have already seen some evidence of this with the delta variant that was identified in India and is now spreading in the U.S.”

If the virus is left to spread unchecked and existing vaccines are rendered ineffective, current global progress in battling the pandemic can stall.

“It is impossible to isolate yourself in the current world we are living in,” Yildirim says. “The pandemic will not be over until all countries have controlled the spread. Especially with the new variants emerging and the concerns about the vaccine escape, we will always be open to prolonging and having new waves of current pandemic.”

Will It Affect the U.S. Vaccine Availability?

The slated donation of 500 million vaccine doses is in addition to the four million doses that the U.S. previously donated to Mexico and Canada. An additional 80 million doses are set to be delivered to other countries by the end of the month.

Although some individuals may be concerned about how these donations might affect vaccine availability in the country, experts say that this will not be an issue. 

“This will not significantly impact vaccine availability in the U.S.,” Moss says. “We have ample supply, even as eligibility expands to younger children. However, we will need to ensure an expanded supply should booster doses be necessary. The addition of the Novavax vaccine to our armamentarium would help address this demand.”

On June 14, Novavax announced that its Phase 3 clinical trials for their COVID-19 vaccine demonstrated 100% protection against moderate and severe disease and 90.4% overall efficacy in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 disease. They plan to file for authorizations in the third quarter of the year.

What This Means For You

If you're not yet vaccinated, or want to help someone else get their shot, you can find available COVID-19 vaccine appointments near you on Vaccines.gov. If you want to help encourage hesitant people in your life to get vaccinated, our COVID-19 vaccine Healthy Conversation Coach can guide you through what to say—and what not to say—to someone still on the fence.

Is It Enough to Increase Global Vaccination?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 11 billion doses are needed to vaccinate 70% of the world population. While a donation of 500 million doses by early 2022 is a significant contribution, it is still insufficient to meet the urgent global demand, experts say. 

“We urgently need to get vaccines to places where the virus is surging, such as parts of sub-Saharan Africa,” Moss says. “500 million doses is a start, but more doses are needed sooner.”

Yildirim agrees, adding that “these vaccines are needed yesterday, not in 2022.” According to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, director-general of the WHO, the number of vaccines administered globally so far could have covered all health workers and older people had they been distributed equitably.

To help expand vaccine manufacturing capacity and increase global vaccination, the U.S. government can invest in manufacturing facilities and work to transfer technologies, as well as the development and production of new vaccines, Moss says.

They can also assist other countries in building the necessary infrastructure for administering vaccines, generating vaccine demand by addressing misinformation, and creating the data systems needed to track and monitor vaccine rollout.

He adds, "donations of vaccine doses are only part of what the U.S. needs to do to be a global leader in the fight against the pandemic."

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The White House. Fact sheet: President Biden announces historic vaccine donation: half a billion Pfizer vaccines to the world’s lowest-income nations. Published June 10, 2021.

  2. World Health Organization. Director-General's opening remarks at One Shared World event. Updated May 5, 2021.

  3. The White House. Statement by President Joe Biden on global vaccine distribution. Published June 3, 2021.

  4. Novavax. Novavax COVID-19 vaccine demonstrates 90% overall efficacy and 100% protection against moderate and severe disease in PREVENT-19 Phase 3 trial. Published June 14, 2021.

  5. World Health Organization. Director-General's opening remarks at the G7 Summit - 12 June 2021. Updated June 12, 2021.

  6. World Health Organization. Director-General's opening remarks at the World Health Assembly - 24 May 2021. Updated May 24, 2021.