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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to American service members at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, June 9, 2021.

Reuters

The makers of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine have confirmed that the U.S. government will buy 500 million doses and share them with low-income countries.

Delivery of the first 200 million doses, purchased at not-for-profit price, will begin in August and the remainder will be sent in the first six months of 2022, Pfizer and BioNTech said in a press release Thursday. The U.S. government has an option to buy additional doses in 2022 and there are reports that it is in talks with Moderna Inc. about acquiring doses of its vaccine for further donations.

“The United States will allocate the vaccine doses to 92 low- and lower middle-income countries and economies as defined by [the COVAX alliance] and the 55 member states of the African Union,” the companies said. “The U.S. government and the companies will work with COVAX to ensure these vaccines are delivered to the specified countries around the world in a way that is most efficient and equitable.”

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In a statement on Thursday, The White House said that the “goal of today’s donation is to save lives and end the pandemic and will provide the foundation for additional actions to be announced in the coming days.” It is meant to “supercharge the global fight against the pandemic.”

The announcement came as leaders from the G7 countries meet in Cornwall, England, where the issue of vaccine sharing is expected to be discussed.

“We have to end COVID-19, not just at home, which we’re doing, but everywhere,” U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday after arriving in Britain for the summit.

The U.S. announcement, the largest donation by any country, will put added pressure on Canada and Britain to share some of their doses. Those countries are the only G7 member states — which also includes France, Germany, Italy and Japan — not to make a firm commitment to donate supplies. Both governments have said that they will donate supplies at some point, just not now.

The Canadian government has said that it is waiting to confirm surplus doses before announcing any plans to donate the shots, but it has not specified whether it will wait for everyone who is eligible to get their jabs first. Canada has bought 252.9 million doses of vaccine, enough to inoculate the entire population more than three times over. According to The Globe and Mail’s vaccine tracking, the government is on track to have enough supply to give two doses to all eligible Canadians by August.

Britain has ordered 400 million doses of vaccine and so far 77 per cent of all adults have had one shot while 54 per cent have had two. Last week Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the country wasn’t in a position to share its supply. “At the moment we don’t have any excess doses, because as soon as the doses are available for the U.K., we get them injected into British arms,” Mr. Hancock said after a meeting of health ministers from G7 countries.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting the Cornwall summit, said that he wants leaders to commit to a global vaccination effort. “Vaccinating the world by the end of next year would be the single greatest feat in medical history,” Mr. Johnson said this week. However, he didn’t provide any details on how that would be accomplished.

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The World Health Organization and others have estimated that 11 billion doses would be needed to vaccinate everyone.

The COVAX alliance, set up by the WHO and other organizations last year, hoped to ensure that the 92 poorest countries could vaccinate at least 20 per cent of their populations in 2021. But COVAX has fallen far short of its objectives and by the end of June it will be 190 million doses behind schedule.

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