If all goes according to plan, the United States will soon send 80 million doses of Covid vaccines to help countries beleaguered by the coronavirus, President Biden said on Monday.
But world leaders, experts and advocates warn much more is needed to stop the virus from running rampant in much of the world, which gives it time to mutate and possibly evolve until it can evade vaccines.
Activists, too, have joined the cohort of voices calling on the Biden administration to move boldly. “Donating 80 million doses of vaccines without a plan to scale up production worldwide is like putting a Band-Aid on a machete wound,” said Gregg Gonsalves, a longtime AIDS activist.
Mr. Biden pledged on Monday that 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines — the three authorized for use in the United States — would be sent abroad. That’s from a supply of about 400 million to 500 million doses produced each month. In addition, the United States plans to send 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine when it is cleared for use by the Food and Drug Administration.
The number of doses needed to vaccinate 70 percent of the world’s population is a staggering 11 billion, according to researchers at Duke University. So far only about 1.7 billion have been produced, the analytics firm Airfinity estimated.
And 11 billion may be a conservative estimate, because the global need for vaccines could prove far greater if virus variants require booster shots. Raw materials and key equipment remain in short supply, and there are stark divisions among officials and experts about how best to broaden the international pool of vaccines.
The United States supports waiving patents so more countries can produce vaccines, but experts say technology transfers and expanded access to raw materials mean it would take about six months for more drug makers to start producing vaccines. European leaders say lifting export bans would provide help sooner.
On Monday, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization chief, called on vaccine manufacturers to speed up delivery of hundreds of millions of doses designated for Covax, the international effort to ensure equitable vaccine distribution. He asked for richer countries to share all they could.
“We need high- income countries, which have contracted much of the immediate global supply of vaccines, to share them now,” Dr. Tedros said. “I call on manufacturers to publicly commit to helping any country that wants to share their vaccines with Covax to lift contractual barriers within days, not months.”
Henrietta Fore, the executive director of UNICEF, released a statement on Monday saying that Covax would soon complete delivering 65 million doses, but that it should have delivered at least 170 million and that the effort could be short by as much as 190 million doses by the time Group of 7 leaders gather in England in June.
“We have issued repeated warnings of the risks of letting down our guard and leaving low- and middle-income countries without equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics,” Ms. Fore wrote. “We are concerned that the deadly spike in India is a precursor to what will happen if those warnings remain unheeded.”
Mr. Biden said the vaccines would be shipped by the end of June, when the United States would have enough for all of its citizens.
There is already a glut of vaccine in the United States, and Mr. Biden and his administration face a different problem: convincing those who remain unvaccinated to get the shot.
Mr. Biden’s announcement came after he was castigated in two open letters, one released last week and one on Monday, that pushed for him to do more to stop the coronavirus internationally by exporting more doses and scaling up manufacturing.
Saad B. Omer, the director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, said that the Biden administration’s commitment to send the doses was “a really good sign,” but that he was more pleased by Mr. Biden’s announcement on Monday that he had put Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, in charge of developing a global strategy, a sign the issue was being taken seriously.
“We will be judged by history,” Dr. Omer said. “People will remember how a country responded to a global pandemic not just within its borders but outside.”
Reporting was contributed by Bryan Pietsch, Peter S. Goodman, Apoorva Mandavilli, Rebecca Robbins and Matina Stevis-Gridneff.
In early April, Payal Raj accompanied her family to India to renew the visas that permit them to live in the United States. She and her husband waited until they had been vaccinated, carefully preparing their paperwork according to the advice of their immigration lawyers.
But the visa itself would soon strand her in India indefinitely, separating her from her husband and daughter in Hendersonville, Tenn.
“Our family is in a crisis,” said Ms. Raj, who is one of thousands of immigrants stuck in India, in part because the Biden administration’s restrictions on most travel from the country mean that temporary visa holders are barred from re-entering the United States. “Every morning is a struggle.”
Ms. Raj’s husband, Yogesh Kumar, an operations manager for a multinational corporation, lives in the United States on an H-1B visa, a temporary permit for highly technical foreign workers. As dependents, Ms. Raj and their daughter hold H-4 visas, which allow temporary workers to bring immediate family and must be renewed about every three years at an embassy or consulate outside the United States.
Mr. Kumar and his daughter, Saanvi Kumar, renewed their visas, but Ms. Raj was asked to submit biometrics and undergo an in-person interview, both of which would not be completed until after the travel restrictions went into effect two weeks ago.
The restrictions, issued as a devastating surge in coronavirus cases has overwhelmed India in recent weeks, prohibit Ms. Raj and others like her from returning to their homes, families and jobs in the United States.
Even those exempt under the ban are in limbo as the outbreak has closed routine services at the U.S. Embassy and consulates, leaving many with no clear path home.
The United States has restricted entry from a number of countries, but the most recent ban has had a disproportionate effect on Indians in the United States given that Indian citizens claim more than two-thirds of H-1B visas issued each year. Including those on other kinds of nonimmigrant visas, immigration lawyers estimate that thousands of Indians living in the United States have been affected.
Japan’s economy shrank in the first three months of 2021, continuing a swing between growth and contraction as its plodding vaccination campaign threatened to stall its recovery even as other major economies appeared primed for rapid growth.
Since the coronavirus emerged, Japan’s domestic demand has experienced cycles of shrinkage and expansion, as coronavirus cases have risen and consumers have retreated indoors, and as infections have then dropped and businesses have welcomed customers back.
Currently, Japan is suffering a resurgence in cases, with much of the country under a state of emergency and deaths climbing, especially in Osaka. The yo-yoing economic pattern, analysts said, is unlikely to stop until the country has vaccinated a significant portion of its population, an effort that has just begun.
Japan’s economy, the world’s third largest after the United States and China, shrank 1.3 percent during the January-to-March period, for an annualized drop of 5.1 percent. The contraction followed two consecutive quarters of expansion.
Growth rocketed in the second half of last year as consumers, who had spent months holed up at home to avoid the virus, piled into stores and restaurants.
The rebound went a long way toward digging the economy out the early months of the pandemic. But the turnaround is fragile and will be hard to maintain as long as the country faces the threat of the virus.