STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Last year, the United States was leading the world in deaths from COVID. This year, the U.S. still faces a resurgent pandemic. But millions of doses of vaccine have allowed the U.S. to resume a more accustomed role on the world stage. Thanks to technology and money, Americans who choose vaccinations are protected. And the U.S. is able to share that protection with the rest of the world. Today, President Biden announces the U.S. is on track to deliver 110 million doses to countries around the world. We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, good morning.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Where did those doses go?
KEITH: Yeah. This is a milestone. More than 100 million delivered, 10 million more on the way out the door. They've gotten more than 50 countries from Afghanistan to El Salvador and Zambia. And, you know, the initial goal was to ship 80 million doses to countries in need by the end of June. That proved to be a bit of a challenge. They got them allocated, but it wasn't until well into July that they finally got them delivered. But in recent days, the pace of vaccine-sharing has really picked up, which has allowed them to get this 110 million number out there, which the president will be announcing. But I'm told by others that this is just not enough. Dr. Krishna Udayakumar is a global health expert at Duke University. He told me this is too little and too late.
KRISHNA UDAYAKUMAR: It's more than any other country in terms of donations. And yet when the world needs 10 billion doses to get to where we need to go, it puts that in context that we're 100x off where we need to be.
KEITH: The Biden administration has secured a contract with Pfizer for another half a billion doses. And those are starting to go out this month. But it could take as much as a year for all of them to be delivered. Meanwhile, the delta variant is ravaging countries in Africa and other places with low vaccination rates. And as long as COVID is spreading out of control, there is a very real risk that another variant like the delta variant could develop, which is why global health experts always say that no one is safe until everyone is safe.
INSKEEP: I'm reminded of something Bill Gates said not too long ago, that he thought the U.S. would be safe by the end of 2021 - but the rest of the world, maybe not until the end of 2022. Why is it taking so much time to get vaccines elsewhere?
KEITH: Well, first, the U.S. prioritized vaccinating Americans. But then when the administration turned to sending those doses to other countries, the bureaucratic and logistical barriers were significant. I interviewed Gayle Smith, who is the global COVID response coordinator at the State Department.
GAYLE SMITH: Sharing vaccine doses isn't quite as easy as just putting them on a plane and calling somebody at the other end and telling them when they'll arrive. Because these are sophisticated medical goods, there are a number of legal and regulatory steps that have to be gone through.
KEITH: So they had to build teams of lawyers and regulators to work through contract issues on the U.S. side and regulatory approvals on the receiving end. In some cases, she said, the countries getting the vaccines had to pass new laws to allow them to accept them. And it was a process that was repeated country by country. In theory, now that these pipelines have been opened up, the next plane full of vaccines will be easier to send. But, of course, it also doesn't end with a pallet of vaccines with an American flag on the side on a tarmac. Those doses have to get into people's arms, which has been an additional challenge in some places.
INSKEEP: How does the administration respond to those concerns?
KEITH: Essentially, they agree that more needs to happen. Today, they want to celebrate this milestone. But Smith told me they are working to accelerate the pace of vaccine-sharing without overpromising. They also want to see other developed countries step up and share more doses more quickly. It's all pretty daunting. But Smith says these first 100 million doses show that it can be done.
SMITH: We're not saying 110 million, check the box, we've done our bit. No. We're not there yet. And so long as the virus is moving faster than we are, we've got to keep going. And we fully intend to do so.
KEITH: Advocates say they want to see more leadership from the U.S., increasing its shipment, putting pressures on other countries to do the same.
INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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