The United States will send millions more COVID-19 vaccines to other countries to help those struggling to get their populations vaccinated, President Joe Biden has announced.
Biden said the move is also aimed at restoring U.S. leadership in the global fight against the pandemic, noting efforts by China and Russia to use their donation programs to gain influence around the world.
Biden confirmed that 20 million more doses will be released over the next six weeks, bringing the total to be shipped by the end of June to 80 million and making the United States the leader in vaccine donation.
Speaking at the White House on May 17, Biden said 80 million will be five times more than any other country has shared.
"Russia and China...have donated 15 million doses. You know, there's a lot of talk about Russia and China influencing the world with vaccines. We want to lead the world with our values with this demonstration of our innovation, ingenuity, and the fundamental decency of American people," he said.
Biden added, "Just as democracies led the world in the darkness of World War II, democracy will lead the world out of this pandemic." But he said the United States would "not use our vaccines to secure favors from other countries."
The United States, the country worst hit by the pandemic, has made strides in its vaccination program and has now administered more than 272 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, according to federal data updated on May 17.
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Cases of COVID-19 and deaths have fallen to their lowest rates in months.
The 20 million additional doses announced on May 17 will include doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson&Johnson vaccines and will be on top of 60 million AstraZeneca doses the United States had already planned to give to other countries.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has not yet been authorized for use in the United States.
The White House has not provided any details about what countries will receive the shots.
The boost follows pressure on the United States to donate more vaccine to the COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme aimed largely at poorer countries, many of which have barely begun inoculation programs.
Biden's announcement came as many Western countries announced more lifting of restrictions, including a shortened nightly curfew in Italy and a decision in New York state to lift a mask mandate in most public spaces for people fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
In India, a current hot spot of the pandemic caused by a surge in infections that has overwhelmed the country's health-care system, some 90,000 Indian doctors who earned their medical degrees from Russia, China, and Ukraine have urged the government to put them to work instead of standing idle while waiting for local licenses.
Graduates from overseas medical schools have to pass local exams in India before they are allowed to practice. Some are waiting to take the exams next month. Others have already cleared the exams and are waiting for their licenses to be issued.
Najeerul Ameen, president of All India Foreign Medical Graduates Association, said the doctors must be allowed to work at such a critical juncture in the fight against the pandemic.