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America is officially meddling in international vaccine diplomacy with a first donation of millions of doses

At last, America is opening its richly stocked barns, sending aid to countries that are less well equipped with vaccines. The White House announced on Thursday how it intends to distribute the 80 million doses of Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen it has promised to needy countries. And start shipping the first 25 million doses immediately.

About three-quarters of the first batch, 19 million doses, is made available to Covax, the international distribution mechanism that was intended to distribute the vaccines fairly across all countries, but has so far failed, due to a lack of vaccines. The remaining 6 million doses will be distributed in the United States to neighboring countries, strategic partners and countries in acute need. The distribution of the rest of the vaccines will take place according to a similar key.

With the donations, America becomes a key player in international vaccine diplomacy, a field where until now China and India have been the main protagonists. Some political observers in Washington have been concerned recently about the way China is strengthening its international partnerships with its Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines, including in South America, the traditional ‘backyard’ of the US.

China mainly deals with countries participating in the China-led international investment program ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. Countries that recognize Taiwan are being skipped. Paraguay, one of those countries, complained in April that it was being approached by Chinese intermediaries, but that their offer was subject to diplomatic conditions.

The United States boasts that they do not ask favors for their vaccines. ” We are not looking for concessions, we are not extorting anyone, we are not imposing conditions, as other countries that supply vaccines do, ” said national security advisor Jake Sullivan, who gave China a clear sneer.

But the fact that the US also has their preferences reflected in the deliveries is evident from the destination of the first shipment. Not only of the quarter that America explicitly reserves for its own diplomatic purposes, but also of the three-quarter that is delivered through Covax.

These vaccines go, among other things, to Paraguay, which seized alongside the Chinese vaccines, and to poor countries in Central America, which are the purveyors of asylum seekers on the American southern border. Archenemy Venezuela, yet also affiliated with Covax, is skipped. ” They hate us, they have negative, miserable feelings about US”, president Nicolás Maduro immediately complained in a video message, after the list was announced.

The fine print on the American donations to Covax shows that they are not delivered without conditions. The United States ultimately decides where those vaccines go. Sullivan promised that his country would consult with the Covax experts, and that health considerations would prevail. However, it is also frequently suggested in Washington that Latin America is the preferred destination for vaccines. And within that area, it seems inconceivable that Venezuela should be allowed to welcome a cargo in the short term.

The earmarked deliveries via Covax fit in with a trend that was already visible in Europe. For example, France wants to strengthen its alliances in West Africa with vaccine donations, using Covax as a kind of courier. Covax is involved in such constructions because otherwise it is completely without vaccines, but it does not conform to the original design of the mechanism. In fact, the ideal was for all countries to buy together, and divide together, to put out the pandemic all over the world. This failed because rich countries bought up all available supplies.

In fact, America did not allow the export of vaccines, and of crucial raw materials, in the last year. The fact that the country can now be generous is also due to the fact that it has now vaccinated a large part of its own population, and the additional supplies are starting to accumulate.

‘Better late than never, but not nearly enough’, is the response of many organizations that are working for a fair distribution of vaccines, and that have long accused America of obstructing the fair distribution with its vaccine protectionism. Carrie Teicher, of the American branch of Doctors without Borders points out in a comment on the fact that 80 million doses of a drop in the ocean, while America is heading in excess of a half a million doses by the end of the summer.

Moreover, according to Teicher, donating surplus stocks is not enough. It’s about getting world production up. “This is only the first step. The government must also demand that pharmaceutical companies that have received public funds to develop coronavirus vaccines share the information and technology with other manufacturers to scale the global production of vaccines.”

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