Spain has promised to donate 7.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Latin American and Caribbean countries this summer as its vaccine diplomacy contrasts with the more cautious approach taken by the United States.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez pledged to ship between 5% and 10% of the country’s total vaccine supply in an effort to combat a third wave of the pandemic that is raging in a number of Latin American nations.
Spain’s leftist government is confident that 70% of its population of 47 million will be inoculated by the end of August.
Sanchez said this week the country was “100 days away from herd immunity,” and will send surplus vaccines to donate to Latin America.
The vaccines that Madrid will send are AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen.
In Spain, more than 29% of the population has had at least one dose while 13.3% has had both as the vaccine program picks up pace.
Sanchez supported U.S. President Joe Biden's initiative to drop patent rights to COVID-19 vaccines to reduce costs for poorer countries but wants to go further.
“Spain is proposing a comprehensive initiative to facilitate the transmission of the necessary technology and expertise, lift all barriers to ramping up production and accelerate vaccine production,” Sanchez wrote in Britain’s Financial Times Wednesday.
In contrast, and as U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris prepares to travel to Mexico and Guatemala next month, the United States has faced calls to do more to help Latin American nations with scant vaccine resources.
U.S, Democrats have called on the Biden administration to make Latin America a priority.
The U.S. State Department said the government was working on plans to share vaccines when they became available, but that the priority is vaccinating American citizens.
“Right now, this administration is focused first and forecast foremost? on ensuring that Americans have access to the safe and effective vaccine. At the same time, we understand that for Americans to be truly safe from this virus both now and over the long term we need to demonstrate leadership, because as long as the virus is in the wild, it will continue to mutate, it will continue to pose a threat to Americans back here at home,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said last month.
The scarcity of vaccines has prompted wealthier Latin Americans to travel to the U.S. to be inoculated, something which the U.S. government has discouraged.
Shortages of vaccines or materials to make them are crippling for many Latin American states.
Brazil, which recorded 425,000 deaths from COVID-19, will run out of the raw materials to produce the Chinese Sinovac vaccine by Friday, after a shipment was held up in China, authorities in Sao Paulo state said.
In Chile, where the vaccine program is one of the fastest in the world, this progress has been muted by a sharp rise in coronavirus cases last month, reaching 9,000 in one day. It forced the government to bring in a quarantine for 80% of the population.
President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic called on Biden to release U.S. stocks of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“President @JoeBiden, less-developed countries and traditional allies of the USA, like Dominican Republic, have approved the AstraZeneca vaccine and we need it urgently,” he tweeted.
Euclides Acevedo, the foreign minister of Paraguay, pleaded with Washington to come to its help as COVID-19 cases mounted.
“What use is fraternity if now they don’t give us a response?” he said.
Spain's Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya criticized the U.S. for delaying a response on sharing vaccines.
“Europe has recently exported 200 million doses of vaccines to the world. Countries like the United States have still not exported any. This has to change,” she told eldiario.es, a Spanish online newspaper this week.
The U.S. government refutes this claim, saying it has so far shared 4 million vaccines with Canada and Mexico.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters last week that Washington planned to send another 60 million doses from its supply over the next two months. He did not specify the countries.
The U.S. has contributed $2 billion to the COVAX, an initiative involving the World Health Organization and others to facilitate the sharing of vaccines by richer countries with poorer nations.
COVAX has sent a total of 6.5 million doses with Latin America. Blinken has pledged another $2 billion to the program.
However, the U.S. offer to share vaccines and the supplies from the COVAX initiative is small compared to the vast Latin American and Caribbean regions, whose populations total 650 million.
Spain wants to take a leading role among European powers when it comes to vaccine diplomacy, while Biden is under domestic political pressure to prioritize U.S. citizens — at the moment at least.
“Sanchez's gesture is a change for Spain to show solidarity with Latin America and to show that Europe cares about the problems of vaccine supply which countries there are facing,” Carlos Malamud, a senior investigator at the Real Elcano Institute, a Madrid research organization, told VOA.
“However, Biden may be under more domestic pressure to change the America First policy of the Trump era but not to open its hand straight away,” Malamud said.
It comes as Chinese vaccines dominate Latin American efforts to combat the pandemic, with Beijing sending more than half of the 143.5 million doses of the vaccine which have been sent to the continent's 10 largest countries.
China's Sinovac has delivered 78.5 million finished doses or ingredients to make the vaccine, while AstraZeneca and Pfizer are the two main Western suppliers who have sent 59 million doses.
Ana Ayuso, a Latin America analyst at the CIDOB think tank in Barcelona, believes the U.S. may have to use vaccine diplomacy to stem the tide of migrants who are crossing the border to be inoculated.
“At present the U.S. may not be shipping many vaccines to Latin America but this may change as a way to stop people crossing into the U.S. to get the jab,” she told VOA.