Organizers said the conference would explore ways that all nations can cooperate to blunt a pandemic that has killed an estimated 4.5 million people and stunted economic growth around the globe.
“We’re not going to solve this crisis with half measures or middle-of-the-road ambitions,” Biden said at the White House. “We need to go big, and we need to do our part” across governments, the private sector and charities, Biden said.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck crisis. And the good news is, we know how to beat this pandemic: vaccines, public health measures and collective action.”
The United States will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to donate to countries in need as part of what Biden said is an effort to become “the arsenal of vaccines, as we were the arsenal of democracy during World War II.”
The Biden administration already purchased 500 million doses of the vaccine in July to be distributed in batches. The doses would go to poorer countries through Covax, the initiative led by the World Health Organization, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
“This is a monumental commitment by the United States, bringing our total number of donated vaccines to the world to more than 1.1 billion,” White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients and Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post on Wednesday. “For every one shot we’ve put in an American arm to date, we are now donating about three shots globally.”
The United States is the world leader in vaccine donations, Biden said, although he and other leaders of wealthy nations have been criticized for all but cornering markets for vaccines early on. Biden has also come under fire for welcoming booster shots for Americans while vaccination rates remain in single digits across most of Africa.
“Put another way, for every one shot we have administered to date in America, we have now committed to do three shots to the rest of the world,” Biden said.
The WHO chief has called for a halt to boosters in rich countries for the rest of the year, to give other nations more chances to catch up.
Neither Biden nor United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield addressed critiques of the booster plan in the United States in their opening remarks heard by reporters.
“We can do both, and it’s a false choice,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said of the suggestion that rich nations should hold back.
“Our view also continues to be that, frankly, the rest of the world needs to step up and do more.”
The summit, which coincides with this week’s U.N. General Assembly meetings, was broken into four sessions.
Biden chaired the first session on the need to vaccinate the world, where he called on global leaders to fully vaccinate 70 percent of the world’s population by next September, The Post previously reported.
Participants included U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,the leaders of Britain, Canada, South Africa and Indonesia, plus a representative from the European Union.
Biden stressed that the goal is “donating, not selling” vaccines and with no strings attached. That was a dig at China and Russia, which have sold vaccines.
Vice President Harris also announced that the United States would contribute $250 million toward a new World Bank fund intended to finance global health security initiatives and avert future outbreaks. Harris said the Biden administration would seek an additional $850 million from Congress for the global fund and appealed to other nations to contribute as well.
“Unless we establish a new financing mechanism, in my view, we will never be fully prepared,” Harris said at the session.
Some advocates cheered Wednesday’s event as a needed turning point in the pandemic response and said they awaited further actions.
The summit was a “critical reset of the world’s ambition to end the pandemic once and for all, as quickly as possible,” said Carolyn Reynolds, co-founder of Pandemic Action Network, who spoke at the event. “We welcome President Biden’s plan to host another summit early next year to make sure the world is on track to achieve the summit goals and targets.”
But other advocacy groups like Oxfam America panned Biden’s event as insufficient and faulted the U.S. government for not doing more to pressure coronavirus vaccine manufacturers to immediately share their intellectual property with the developing world.
“While additional donations are always welcome, it’s hard not to see the summit as anything but a disappointment,” said Zain Rizvi, a researcher at Public Citizen. “The global vaccine effort cannot be relegated to a GoFundMe campaign.”
Dan Diamond in Washington and Annabelle Timsit in London contributed to this report.