WASHINGTON — The United States will double the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses it is donating to the global inoculation effort as the international community struggles to meet its goals for protecting people from the coronavirus.
The larger donation, announced by President Joe Biden on Wednesday, will bring the U.S. commitment to more than 1 billion doses, nearly one-tenth of what experts suggest is needed to safeguard the world’s population. All of the doses are scheduled to be shipped by this time next year.
“This is a global tragedy,” Biden said during a virtual summit on COVID-19 that was convened during the United Nations General Assembly. “And we’re not going to solve this with half measures.”
Production challenges, as well as decisions by wealthy nations to vaccinate their own citizens before exporting doses to low-income countries, have created distribution bottlenecks leaving much of the developing world vulnerable to the virus.
Only 286 million doses have been shipped through COVAX, an international partnership designed to supply the impoverished with vaccines. The organization is aiming for 1.2 billion doses by the end of the year, a downgrade from its original goal of 2 billion.
Dr. Seth Berkley, who plays a leading role in COVAX as head of the international vaccine alliance known as Gavi, said during Wednesday’s summit that “ongoing obstacles” have “created delays and slowed progress, such that there are still huge and unacceptable disparities in the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.”
Activists have decried the inequality, which Winnie Byanyima, a U.N. official working on public health issues, described as “vaccine apartheid” in a statement Wednesday.
“We need a new paradigm that rests on sharing the technology and know-how of vaccine manufacturing around the world,” she said. “We need action, not promises.”
The global inoculation effort is intended to not only save lives but limit opportunities for the coronavirus to mutate into new and more dangerous versions. The highly contagious delta variant, which was first detected in India, has underscored the danger by ripping through unvaccinated communities and causing another surge in deaths.
“To beat the pandemic here, we need to beat it everywhere,” Biden said.