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Asia Welcomes U.S. Vaccine Donations Amid Cold Storage Concerns

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – Health officials and experts in Asia have hailed US plans to share an additional 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccine with the developing world, but some say it would take more than donations to fill the huge immunization gaps that threaten to prolong the pandemic.

President Joe Biden was due to make the announcement Thursday in a speech ahead of the start of the Group of Seven summit in Britain. Two hundred million doses – enough to fully protect 100 million people – would be shared this year, the balance to be returned in the first half of 2022, according to a source familiar with the matter who confirmed the news of the Pfizer sharing plan.

Jaehun Jung, professor of preventive medicine at South Korea’s Gachon University College of Medicine, said US donations could prove to be a “huge turning point” in the global fight against COVID-19, but also lamented that the help couldn’t have come sooner. .

He said the extremely cold storage temperatures required for Pfizer’s injections would present challenges for countries with poor health systems and called on US officials and the New York-based drugmaker to explore the possibility of easing. the requirements.

He said the delay in US aid was “understandable, as the US initially had its own supply issues while vaccinating its own population. But for now, moving the schedule forward is critical. vaccine supplies as soon as possible. “

According to the person who spoke to the AP, the Biden administration plans to deliver the 500 million snaps it purchases from Pfizer to 92 low-income countries and the African Union over the next year via the COVAX program supported by the UN.

The United States has faced increasing pressure to define its global vaccine sharing plan. Supply inequalities around the world have become more pronounced as concerns grow about new virus variants emerging from areas where the circulation of COVID-19 is still high.

The White House had previously announced plans to share 80 million doses worldwide by the end of June, most through COVAX.

The additional donation of Pfizer Injections is crucial as the global immunization disparity has become a multidimensional threat: a human catastrophe, an economic loss of $ 5,000 billion to advanced economies and a contributor to the generation of mutant viruses, a said Jerome Kim, head of the International Vaccine Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making vaccines available to developing countries.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the South Korea Agency for Disease Control and Prevention, said the success of Biden’s vaccine-sharing plan will primarily depend on how quickly vaccines can be produced and sent to countries. in need due to global shortages.

She also echoed Jung’s concerns about Pfizer’s cold chain requirements and said US donations should be matched with efforts to improve infrastructure and educate health workers in host countries. .

“It is very important to manage international cooperation so that the whole world can be vaccinated quickly,” she said in a briefing.

The United States has yet to confirm which 92 low-income countries will receive Pfizer’s injections.

In Asia, Jung said India and Southeast Asia are in desperate need of donations. Vaccinating isolated North Korea could also prove to be a difficult challenge.

Some experts say donations alone would not be enough to fill the huge supply gaps and call for a transition to a distributed vaccine manufacturing system where skilled companies around the world produce their own injections without intellectual property constraints.

But Jung said many developing countries dependent on COVAX donations lack the industrial resources to make advanced vaccines like Pfizer’s mRNA injections.

As countries around the world struggled to access vaccines, unable to strike bilateral deals with companies like Pfizer, many turned to China. China has exported 350 million doses of its vaccines to dozens of countries, according to its foreign ministry.

China has pledged 10 million doses to COVAX, and Chinese drug maker Sinopharm said last week it had just completed a batch of vaccines to be shared with COVAX. WHO had approved the vaccine for emergency use last month.

As Chinese vaccines came under intense scrutiny due to a lack of transparency in sharing clinical trial data, many countries were desperate to take what was available and found the vaccines easier. to use as they could be stored in normal refrigerators.


Wu reported from Taipei, Taiwan.

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