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President Biden is under pressure to help close a massive gap in vaccination rates between rich and poor nations. He's sending some of his top development officials to Africa and India to talk about how the United States can help boost production. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez has more.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: The idea is to spread vaccine production out around the world. There's a little-known agency called the Development Finance Corporation that's helping tackle this very big problem. Its top officials are on a nine-day trip to visit three vaccine plants, two in South Africa and one in India. The DFC's David Marchick says these plants can help make 2 billion doses of vaccines by the end of next year.
DAVID MARCHICK: We're trying to help create hubs for vaccine manufacturing and hubs for this type of expertise much like Silicon Valley is a hub for technology or San Diego is a hub for biotech.
ORDOÑEZ: President Biden has pledged to make the United States the arsenal of vaccines for the world. Last month he boasted of shipping more doses to poor countries than every other country combined - 190 million doses to date.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: But we also know that to beat the pandemic here, we need to beat it everywhere.
ORDOÑEZ: But he's also faced criticism for what he's done at home. The World Health Organization and others have said it's not right for fully vaccinated Americans to get booster shots when millions around the world have yet to get a first dose. Krishna Udayakumar at Duke University keeps track of global vaccine donations. He said it's clear that the United States and other wealthy nations can donate much more, especially to places like Africa. Only about 5% of people on the continent have been vaccinated.
KRISHNA UDAYAKUMAR: We're nowhere near what needs to happen to even turn the corner on this pandemic, especially in Africa. The inequities have continued to get worse, not better.
ORDOÑEZ: John Simon was a U.S. ambassador to the African Union in the Bush administration. He says the reality is no one is making poor nations a priority. He said it's crucial that vaccine production be increased in Africa.
JOHN SIMON: The reason it's so essential is because without more manufacturing facilities in Africa, Africa is completely dependent on companies from outside of Africa, for whom they are a tiny fraction of their overall business.
ORDOÑEZ: He's saying someone needs to put the African people at the front of the line, and it will likely be someone in Africa who does that.
Franco Ordoñez, NPR News.
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