The U.S. government is investing $400 million in a new program to help countries get vaccines to their citizens quickly, an effort that comes amid fears that the Delta and Omicron variants will drive a new wave of cases.
The U.S. Agency for International Development said in a statement on Monday that the program, called the Initiative for Global Vaccine Access, would “enhance international coordination” to help countries “overcome vaccine access barriers.”
“As more vaccine supply flows to low- and middle-income countries, the United States and other donors must redouble efforts to help countries,” the statement said, adding that the agency would focus on countries in Africa.
Three-quarters of the money will go toward administering vaccines in remote territories and helping countries with vaccine policies and supply chain logistics, the agency said.
The rest of the money will be used to help areas where there are surges in cases and to help countries manufacture vaccines locally, the agency said.
The statement said the new funds were in addition to $1.3 billion already committed. Experts said that, in addition to donating vaccines, it is important for wealthier countries to help other countries invest in vaccine infrastructure. However, one expert said the program, known as Global Vax for short, was not quite sufficient.
“It’s not nearly enough to vastly ramp up global vaccination, but it’s a milestone,” said Lawrence O. Gostin, a Georgetown University law professor who specializes in public health.
The new program comes amid criticism that Covax, the U.N.-backed multibillion-dollar alliance, has not met its goal to acquire doses for poor countries. The alliance includes international health agencies and nonprofits whose goal is to ensure, through sheer buying power, that poor countries receive vaccines as quickly as the rich.
It was supposed to be a global powerhouse, but instead has faced months of missteps and disappointments. The alliance has had difficulty getting doses from airport tarmacs into people’s arms.
Biden administration officials say that several African nations, notably South Africa, are now turning away vaccine donations because their supply exceeds the demand — in part because of vaccine hesitancy. But global public health experts say there is another reason: Some countries are not equipped to distribute and administer the doses they receive, which often arrive on short notice.
The urgent need to vaccinate the world goes far beyond protecting people in poor nations. The longer the virus circulates, the more dangerous it can become, even for vaccinated people in wealthy countries.
Without billions more doses, experts warn, new variants could keep emerging, endangering all nations.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.