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US Ships Moderna Vaccine to Pakistan Amid Delta Variant Surge

A student receives a COVID-19 vaccine from a health worker at a vaccination center at Jamia Naeemia, an Islamic university in Lahore, Pakistan, July 12, 2021.
A student receives a COVID-19 vaccine from a health worker at a vaccination center at Jamia Naeemia, an Islamic university in Lahore, Pakistan, July 12, 2021.

As Pakistan deals with a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant, the Biden administration is sending 3 million doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine Friday, set to arrive in the country Sunday.

The doses, sent through COVAX, the United Nations vaccine-sharing mechanism, are in addition to the 2.5 million doses of Moderna already donated to Pakistan, a White House official told VOA.

Pakistan’s national vaccination campaign has largely relied on Chinese vaccines, but the U.S. donations are helping officials overcome critical shortages of Western-developed anti-coronavirus shots.

Pakistani expatriate workers are required to receive European or U.S. vaccines so they can resume working abroad, where governments have not yet approved Chinese vaccines.

White House officials said the administration is “proud to be able to deliver these safe and effective vaccines” to Pakistanis.

“We are sharing these doses not to secure favors or extract concessions. Our vaccines do not come with strings attached. We are doing this with the singular objective of saving lives,” the officials stressed.

Pakistan hailed the White House announcement, saying it “deeply appreciates” the shipment of 3 million doses of Moderna.

“These vaccines will give boost to ongoing vaccination drive in Pakistan,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri told VOA.

“This considerate gesture is part of the continued assistance that the U.S. has provided to Pakistan to support our COVID relief and prevention efforts. We look forward to our continued cooperation with the U.S. in our fight against the pandemic,” Chaudhri said.

Washington already has delivered nearly $50 million in COVID assistance to Islamabad to help the country combat the disease.

The coronavirus situation in Pakistan, a country of about 220 million, remains largely under control.

Pakistan government data show the country currently has more than a million cases, more than 53,600 of them active. The country has had almost 23,000 COVID-19-related deaths and is dealing with rampant infections from the delta variant.

Wednesday, Karachi University's National Institute of Virology said the delta variant – first discovered in neighboring India — now accounts for 100% of cases in the country’s largest city, Karachi.

According to Pakistan’s Health Ministry, 24.5 million doses of the vaccine have been administered. The government plans to inoculate 70% of about 100 million Pakistanis deemed eligible for COVID-19 vaccine.

COVAX struggling

The White House official said that the administration has so far distributed close to 80 million doses to countries in need.

Aside from Pakistan, countries that have received vaccine donations from the Biden administration include South Korea, Mexico, Canada, Taiwan, Brazil, Honduras, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Colombia, El Salvador, Malaysia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru, Indonesia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bhutan, Moldova, Nepal, Costa Rica, Haiti, Fiji, Laos, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines.

In addition to a $2 billion donation to COVAX, the administration has pledged to purchase 500 million Pfizer vaccines and distribute them through the year to the African Union and 92 low- and lower middle-income countries that are members of COVAX.

Still, COVAX is struggling to get enough doses to reach its vaccination goals. According to July 15 calculations by Doctors Without Borders -- also known as MSF, the abbreviation of its French name, Medecins Sans Frontieres -- Pfizer has allocated only 11% of its vaccine deliveries to date to low- and middle-income countries directly or through COVAX, and Moderna has allocated only 0.3%.

The organization is urging the Biden administration to pressure Pfizer and Moderna to share mRNA vaccine technology with producers in low- and middle-income countries so more vaccines can be made in more places across the world.

“The longer people everywhere remain completely unvaccinated, the more chances there will be for new variants to take hold and set back the global response,” Dr. Carrie Teicher, MSF-USA director of programs, said in a statement.

Ayaz Gul contributed to this report.