More vaccines coming to Pacific islands; 'no strings attached,' Biden says
President Joe Biden on Friday pledged to send “millions more” doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the Pacific island nations in the coming months, reassuring regional leaders that the U.S. donations do not come with fine print.
"We are not attaching any strings or conditions to these doses. This is about saving lives," Biden said in a recorded video message delivered before the 51st session of the Pacific Islands Forum. “We value our relations with each and every one of you."
The U.S. is in competition with China for vaccine diplomacy with Pacific island nations, which are emerging as pawns in the geopolitical battle between the two superpowers.
On Thursday, China announced plans to provide the world with 2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines this year and donate $100 million to COVAX to promote global vaccine provision amid the raging Delta variant.
Biden said the U.S. has already provided more than 80 million doses of the nation’s own supply to partner nations around the world, including island states in the Blue Continent.
“Millions more are coming in the coming months,” Biden said. “We are donating half a billion Pfizer doses for distribution to the Covaxx program.”
Biden noted that the Covid-19 pandemic is an immediate threat that requires immediate action.
“This pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the many lives lost and they can never ever be replaced," the president said.
In the U.S. alone, the coronavirus has infected 35.6 million and killed 615,000.
“The Pacific islands region is not better than anyone,” Biden said.
According to SPC’s most recent tally, Pacific island countries and territories have reported 15,911 in the past 14 days. The coronavirus claimed 781 lives in the region.
Fiji is the hardest hit with 13,527 new cases in the past two weeks. At 283 fatalities, Fiji has the highest death toll in the region.
While achieving a “sustainable economic recovery” is a collective goal, Biden said, “The first step is ending this pandemic. We know how to do that: vaccinating as many people as possible as quickly as possible.”
Biden also vowed to strengthen Washington's engagement with the Pacific islands region.
“The U.S is a proud Pacific power, and will continue to be an active, engaged, partner in the region, and a friend to all your countries,” he said. “A free and open Indo Pacific is vital to each of our nations’ security and prosperity and to all our shared future."