President Biden will announce a massive donation of 500 million covid jabs for poorer nations that the US says marks a return of American multilaterism and global leadership

Carbis Bay (United Kingdom) (AFP) - US President Joe Biden on Thursday saluted a “historic” moment in the fight against the pandemic after Washington announced it would donate 500 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to poorer nations.

French President Emmanuel Macron issued his own call for pharma groups producing vaccines to donate 10 percent of their production to poor nations.

“This is about our responsibility, our humanitarian obligation to save as many lives as we can,” Biden told reporters on the eve of the G7 summit in Cornwall, southwestern England.

Biden said the move was also in the US interest because of the risk of variants while the White House said the decision would “supercharge the global fight against the pandemic”.

The enduring challenge to defeat the virus was earlier laid bare by the World Health Organization which warned Europeans not to drop their guard because vaccination levels remain too low to stop another wave of infections.

Although pockets of the rich world have scored successes against the disease, the gains are fragile and billions of mostly poor people remain unprotected.

Pressure on rich countries to address the glaring vaccine inequality is growing as their rising levels of immunity allow a gradual return to normal life.

Over 100 million people in the 27-nation European Union, or 22.6 percent of its population, have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to an AFP count.

The contrast with developing nations was further evidenced Thursday when South Africa’s National Institute For Communicable Diseases announced his country had technically entered a third wave with more than 9,000 cases over the past 24 hours.

On Thursday, India reported a global record of more than 6,000 Covid-19 deaths in a day after one state dramatically revised its data upwards, fuelling concerns that the official tally of almost 360,000 deaths, the world’s third-highest toll, is woefully understated.

- ‘Great progress’ -

Leaders at the G7 have targeted donations of one billion vaccine doses destined for the world’s poorest countries.

The United States has faced criticism for sitting on huge stocks of unused vaccines.

But with more than 60 percent of Americans having received at least one shot, Washington has moved to reclaim global leadership with the donation of 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech jabs to 92 poor and lower-middle-income nations.

As India halted exports of vaccines to help stem its own devastating wave of infections, smaller neighbours such as Nepal

The massive American donation will be channelled through the Covax program, which aims to ensure equitable global vaccine distribution.

The White House said the doses will start shipping in August, with the first 200 million delivered by the end of the year.

Dismissing suggestions that it is in a so-called vaccine diplomacy contest with Russia and China, Washington has described its initiatives as a return to multilateral action after the nationalist isolationism under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump.

Pfizer’s Chairman and CEO Albert Bouria, attending the G7 meeting, saluted Biden for his leadership.

“As the G7 countries come together for this critical summit, the eyes of the world are on the leaders of these powerful nations to help solve the on-going COVID-19 crisis,” said Bouria.

“While great progress has been made in many developed nations, the world is now asking the G7 leaders to shoulder the responsibility to help vaccinate people in ALL countries,: he added.

Pressure on rich countries to address the glaring vaccine inequality is growing

In Europe, some restrictions have been eased of late notably ahead of the Euro football competition starting Friday.

But Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director, warned against any complacency as the organisation says to date just 30 percent of people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and 17 percent have been fully vaccinated in the WHO’s European Region – which spans 53 countries and territories and includes several in Central Asia.

- ‘Mistake’ -

“Vaccination coverage is far from sufficient to protect the region from a resurgence,” Kluge told reporters, warning against repeating the “mistake” of last summer by easing protective measures prematurely.

Graphic showing the changing trend in people willing to accept a coronavirus vaccine, according to YouGov polls

Iran’s government meanwhile warned that recent success in containing the Middle East’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak risks being reversed should the public cease being diligent in their precautions amid a shortage of vaccines.

The country saw total infections pass the three million mark on Thursday, adding to the global total of almost 174,350,990. The pandemic has claimed more than 3.7 million lives worldwide.

Metal cremation frames are going unused near Bangalore as coronavirus deaths appear to have peaked

In Lebanon, cash-strapped politicians are offering free Covid-19 jabs to their base ahead of next year’s elections. With the country in the grip of a severe economic crisis, vaccines are a luxury for many.

Two Sputnik doses are sold to companies and associations for $38, which amounts to 500,000 Lebanese pounds at the black market rate – around three-quarters of the minimum wage.

Firas, a former insurance broker, had registered along with his wife for state-sponsored vaccination. But when a political party offered him free jabs, he chose not to wait.

“I have been unemployed for six months,” said the 52-year-old, who declined to name the party that sponsored his shot.

“How would I have afforded vaccines for two people?”