Biden’s COVID Vaccine Pledge: A Half Measure

Protesters march to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) offices in Pretoria for greater access to vaccines. (Image: AFP)

On Wednesday President Biden announced new plans to help the global vaccination effort, saying now is not the time for “half-measures or middle-of-the-road ambitions. We need to go big and we need to do our part.” This is an ironic statement, considering the U.S.’s repeated lack of commitment to the measures that would be needed to end this global pandemic.

While Biden pledges to double donations of the Pfizer vaccine to other countries, this is too little too late. Nearly five million people have already died from COVID. Why weren’t more vaccines made available to other countries earlier? How do you explain the fact that vaccines are expiring in the U.S., even though there have been calls to ship this excess elsewhere? And why are people in the U.S. beginning to get a third shot, when less than half of the world has even received one?

This pledge of providing 1.1 billion shots, and not immediately, but through 2022, is exactly the kind of “half-measure” Biden claims to be against. This amount would only provide full vaccination to 7% of the world’s global population. For a country that represents nearly 16% of global gross domestic product (GDP), and is the wealthiest in the world, this is the best that he can do?

What’s even more outrageous is that this 500 million vaccine figure comes from negotiations with Pfizer, who only agreed to sell this number of shots at a not-for-profit price to the U.S. This agreement was negotiated as an alternative to Pfizer providing a license to manufacturers overseas, which would have allowed them to produce the vaccines themselves.

Moderna, on the other hand, has not agreed to sell vaccinations to the U.S. without making a profit. Nor have they offered to share their vaccine technology with others around the world. And this is how these life-saving decisions are made – by pharmaceutical companies who only care about their profits.

The Biden administration could technically require companies to share their vaccine producing technology to other countries, given the gravity of the crisis. Instead, Biden has merely urged these companies to do the right thing (even as they’ve shown they won’t), while patting himself on the back for his “middle-of-the-road ambition.”