Blinken urges nations to add $2B more to UN vaccine program


GENEVA (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appealed Thursday for other countries to inject another $2 billion into a U.N.-backed program to ship coronavirus vaccines to the world’s poorest countries — at a time when rich countries have seized the lion’s share of them.

The United States was co-hosting an online conference that has brought together presidents, prime ministers and other dignitaries to help buttress the $6.3 billion that have already been raised for the so-called COVAX program.

The program has begun donating millions of vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income countries in recent months. But the World Health Organization — insisting that no one is safe from the pandemic until everyone is — has repeatedly decried a lack of equity in the vaccine rollout, with rich nations like the U.S. nabbing the vast majority of doses so far.

Donors were either chipping in funds — Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven said Sweden was increasing its contribution to COVAX from $20 million to $280 million, for example — or announcing plans to share doses with the beneficiary countries.

Blinken, speaking in recorded remarks, laid out an ambition to raise COVAX’s target of vaccinating 20% of populations in the affected countries, even as he praised the pledges and donations made so far.

“To beat this pandemic, we need to aim much higher. With $2 billion more to COVAX, we can reach approximately 30% of people in target countries, rather than 20%,” he said for the event hosted with Geneva-based Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance — which co-runs COVAX.

“That’s not all we must do. We need to produce more safe, effective vaccines, and we need to distribute them more rapidly,” Blinken said.

He did not propose new U.S. funds, but highlighted the Biden administration’s contribution of $2 billion to COVAX in March and its plans to add another $2 billion through 2022.

“We recognize that as long as COVID is spreading and replicating anywhere, it poses a threat to people everywhere,” Blinken said.

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