US nears deal for 500M Pfizer doses to give abroad

Drew Armstrong and Josh Wingrove

The Biden administration is negotiating with Pfizer Inc. to buy an additional 500 million COVID-19 vaccines to donate globally, a person familiar with the matter said, doubling the government’s commitment to helping less-wealthy countries. 

A deal is expected to be announced in the coming days, ahead of an international COVID summit Biden has called for on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information isn’t yet public.

The Biden administration struck a nearly identical agreement with the company in August, and Pfizer has been shipping those doses to the international vaccine program Covax. The program has been slow to get doses to participant countries, leaving many less-wealthy nations having vaccinated only a tiny percentage of their populations.

“The president has been clear that we will do more and more to help lead the world in getting the world vaccinated,” Jeff Zients, the White House COVID response coordinator, said Sept. 17.

Details of the agreement were reported earlier by the New York Times. 

While the donations are an important diplomatic gesture by the U.S., broad vaccination of the global population would also help reduce the chances of mutations that could escape the vaccines protecting Americans. 

A large donation would also help deflect criticism that the U.S. is hoarding vaccines to give its citizens booster shots while some lower-income parts of the world wait to be inoculated. A Food and Drug Administration decision on whether to clear booster shots for use could happen within days, after an outside panel of experts recommended the FDA authorize vaccines for people 65 and above, and those at high risk.