By Humeyra Pamuk
SANJOSE, Costa Rica -The United States will announce in the next two weeks how it plans to distribute 80 million COVID-19 vaccine doses it has pledged globally, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado, Blinken said the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden would focus on equitable distribution of the vaccines and not tie political strings to the process, a criticism at times directed at China.
“Sometime in the next week to two weeks – we will be announcing the process by which we will distribute those vaccines, what the criteria are, how we will do it,” Blinken said during his first trip as secretary of state to Latin America, which is fighting to contain COVID-19.
“We will distribute vaccines without political requirements of those receiving them.”
On Monday, Biden said his administration would send at least 20 million doses of the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, on top of 60 million AstraZeneca Plc doses he had already planned to give to other countries.
The Biden administration has been under pressure to share vaccines to help curb worsening outbreaks from India to Brazil, where health experts fear new, more contagious coronavirus variants could undermine the effectiveness of available shots.
Blinken said the announcement would reveal the criteria and details of the process but that the United States would focus on the equitable distribution and work in coordination of the COVAX vaccine sharing facility.
As the pandemic outlook within the United States brightens with advancing vaccinations, the aid pledge is central to the administration’s drive to use U.S. vaccine supply as a tool to counter Chinese and Russian vaccine diplomacy.
A senior State Department official, when asked if the United States during this trip made vaccine commitments, to Central America or Costa Rica specifically, said no region or country specific pledges had been made.
“We don’t know what the final distribution is going to be. A lot of it has to do with essentially epidemiology and where the science says that we should be dedicating those vaccines to prevent further spread,” the official told reporters in a briefing.
Biden, who has loaned some unused vaccines to Canada and Mexico and donated funds to a multilateral vaccination effort for poor countries, in April said the White House was still looking at its options for eventually sending vaccines to Canada, Central America and elsewhere.
Costa Rica’s Alvarado stressed that his country was hoping for prompt news on vaccine distribution.
Earlier on Tuesday, the World Bank urged the United States to free up excess vaccines.