On Thursday, before the opening Friday of the G-7 Summit in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the group is set to donate a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to low- and middle-income countries.
Johnson’s announcement came after U.S. President Joe Biden said earlier in the day that his administration is donating 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, half of the G-7 vaccine trove.
“We’re going to help lead the world out of this pandemic working alongside our global partners,” Biden said.
Britain will donate 100 million shots.
“As a result of the success of the U.K.’s vaccine program, we are now in a position to share some of our surplus doses with those who need them,” Johnson said. “In doing so, we will take a massive step towards beating this pandemic for good.”
The U.S. shots will begin shipment in August “as quickly as they roll off the manufacturing line,” Biden said in Cornwall on Thursday, adding that 200 million doses will be delivered by the end of this year and 300 million in the first half of 2022.
Biden said the donation will be made with no strings attached.
“Our vaccine donations don’t include pressure for favors or potential concessions. We’re doing this to save lives, to end this pandemic,” he said.
Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, joined Biden for the announcement.
“We are testing our vaccines response to newly arising variants,” Bourla said, noting that so far not a single variant has escaped the protection provided by the vaccine.
With the pledge, the U.S. also aims to liberate itself from the uncomfortable reputation of being a vaccine hoarder.
The move is a signal that the U.S. “isn’t as intensely parochial and inward focused,” said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and Americas program at Chatham House. That has been a deep concern globally, said Vinjamuri, during former President Donald Trump’s administration as well as in the early months of the Biden administration, when Washington was not sharing doses despite a massive oversupply.
The doses, delivered by the U.S. through COVAX, the United Nations vaccine-sharing mechanism, are in addition to the 80 million already committed by the U.S. to be delivered by the end of June. In addition, the U.S. has given $2 billion to COVAX.
The U.S. initially pledged an additional $2 billion for COVAX but is now redirecting the money to help pay for the 500 million donated doses, which has an estimated cost of $3.5 billion.
Humanitarian organizations applauded the move.
Tom Hart, acting CEO at The ONE Campaign, an organization that works to end poverty and preventable diseases, said in a statement, “This action sends an incredibly powerful message about America’s commitment to helping the world fight this pandemic and the immense power of U.S. global leadership.”
However, it is unclear just how much G-7 countries can help. The member countries are at different stages of vaccinating their own populations. Japan and Canada, which have vaccination rates of under 10%, are not in a position to be as generous.
Aside from donating vaccines, the G-7 is also under pressure to waive vaccine patents. The U.S. has supported waiving intellectual property rights on vaccines, the so-called TRIPS waiver at the World Trade Organization. The European Union, however, is pushing for a different proposal, compulsory licensing to scale up vaccine production.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told VOA that the different approaches will not be a point of contention at the G-7.
“I anticipate convergence, because we’re all converging around the idea that we need to boost vaccine supply in a number of ways,” said Sullivan.
The Biden administration knows that Europe will likely hold firm on not supporting the waiver, said Vinjamuri of Chatham House, adding that getting all members of the WTO to agree on a waiver is a long and challenging process, and it’s simply easier to donate vaccines rather than allow countries to produce them without fear of being sued.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told VOA the U.S. will continue WTO negotiations but would not provide details on whether Biden will put his diplomatic weight behind it at the G-7.
Prior to his vaccine announcement, Biden met Thursday with Johnson, with whom he has had disagreements in the past. Biden had once called Johnson a clone of Trump.
The leaders agreed on a new Atlantic Charter, modeled on statement made by then-British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 to promote democracy and free trade, that was instrumental in shaping the world order after World War II.
The 2021 Atlantic Charter underscores that, with similar values and combined strength, the two countries will work together to face the enormous challenges facing the planet – from COVID and climate change to maintaining global security.
Biden, who is of Irish descent, is also concerned that Brexit could undermine the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 deal facilitated by the United States that brought peace to Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.
Under the Brexit deal, Northern Ireland remains party to the EU’s single market, yet is no longer part of the union, which means a customs border must be implemented. The Biden administration wants to ensure that nothing in Brexit could endanger prospects for peace.
Biden’s support for the Good Friday Agreement is “rock-solid,” Sullivan told VOA.
“That agreement must be protected, and any steps that imperil or undermine it will not be welcomed by the United States,” said Sullivan. He would not say whether Johnson is undermining the agreement.
Despite these tensions, Biden is very committed to anchoring the G-7 in the U.S.-U.K. partnership, said Vinjamuri. “Really using America’s deep and historic relationship with Britain to affirm the values of democracy, of liberalism, of freedom.”
Johnson’s government has just concluded an integrated review of its foreign policy strategy, which included a reaffirmation of the special relationship between the two allies.