The United States will soon ship more than 2 million doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to the African nations of Kenya and Morocco, the White House told VOA on Wednesday.
"As the president has said, America will be the arsenal of vaccines in our fight against COVID-19," a White House official told VOA. "We are proud to be able to deliver these safe and effective vaccines to the people of Kenya and Morocco."
Those donations bring the U.S. to a milestone, said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
"Today, we hit a major milestone in our global effort to be the arsenal of vaccines: 400 million doses shipped to 112 countries for free, with no strings attached," Psaki said Wednesday. "To put America's leadership into perspective, we have shipped four times more free doses to the world than any other country. And this is on top of our efforts to expand manufacturing at home and abroad, our close partnerships with manufacturers to provide their vaccines to hard-hit areas, and our work to turn vaccines into vaccinations around the globe."
In the latest round of donations, Kenya will receive 517,140 doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine. Morocco will get 1,599,390 doses. The donations will be distributed by COVAX, a global initiative founded to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. In both countries, the White House told VOA, scientific, legal and regulatory teams are coordinating to ensure the prompt delivery of safe and effective tranches of vaccine. These new doses come from the half-billion doses secured by President Joe Biden’s administration over the summer, the White House said.
Health advocates welcomed the donations but questioned whether they were enough — especially considering that the U.S. is promoting booster doses for already-vaccinated Americans while so many people worldwide have yet to get a first shot.
"Less than 10% of the people in Africa have received a vaccine, and more than 3 billion people (including doctors and nurses) around the world have not received their first dose, even as rich countries are starting to administer fourth doses," said Robbie Silverman, senior manager of private sector advocacy at Oxfam America, a Boston-based organization that advocates for the poor.
"Table scraps from rich countries — who have hoarded the vast majority of the world’s mRNA vaccine doses — will not end the pandemic and will not stop the emergence of new variants that could threaten the United States," Silverman said. "The U.S. should lead in responding to what low- and middle-income countries are actually asking for — the ability to manufacture their own doses for their own citizens. This starts with opening the vaccine recipe, sharing the technical know-how and providing resourcing to qualified manufacturers throughout the world."
Kenya, an East African coastal nation of nearly 54 million people, has reported more than 320,000 confirmed cases and 5,558 deaths from the virus, according to World Health Organization data. As of this week, nearly 11.3 million vaccine doses have been administered, WHO says. Kenya appears to have endured at least five waves of infection. Compared with the previous four waves, the last wave, which peaked in December and has since fallen sharply, resulted in the greatest number of known infections but the lowest number of deaths.
Morocco, a North African nation of nearly 37 million people, has seen more than 1,100,000 confirmed cases and 15,167 deaths, according to the WHO. Nearly 51.9 million vaccines have been administered. WHO data appear to show that Morocco is in the midst — possibly the peak — of a third wave.