President Joe Biden (Official White House Photo)

U.S. President Joe Biden. (Official White House photo)

Tracker: U.S. Vaccine Donations to Latin America

By Chase Harrison

The Biden administration has joined China and Russia in the vaccine diplomacy race in Latin America. See where U.S. donations have arrived.

The Biden administration is stepping up its donations of vaccines worldwide. Amid concerns that unequal access to vaccines makes COVID-19 a persistent global health threat and with nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population fully vaccinated to date, Washington is starting to widen global distribution, especially of Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson shots. So far, about 35 million doses have been distributed.

The United States is not the only world power donating vaccines toward Latin America. China has donated their own vaccines to particular countries in the region, including shipments of 1.5 million Sinovac doses to El Salvador, 100,000 Sinopharm doses to Bolivia, and 500,000 Sinopharm doses to Venezuela. Russia has made donations too, including an undisclosed number of Sputnik doses to Nicaragua. Both donor countries have also cut attractive deals to deliver their vaccines at prices significantly cheaper than U.S. vaccine rates. Beijing, for example, is providing $1 billion in financing to Latin American countries to help them purchase Chinese vaccines. Other countries like Canada and Spain have pledged doses as well.

All these donations aim to help Latin America and the Caribbean reach herd immunity, which the Pan American Health Organization said in January would require inoculating 500 million people.

Below, AS/COA Online looks at the pledges, what’s been delivered so far, and Mexico’s special strategy with its donations.

This tracker was initially published July 15 and is updated as new information becomes available.

The pledges

The United States’ first donation of vaccines was a special loan of AstraZeneca vaccines to neighbors and major trading partners, Canada and Mexico. On March 18, President Joe Biden pledged a total 4.2 million doses in total to the two countries. Mexico's allocated 2.7 million doses arrived in late March and early April.

In late April, Biden expanded his pledge of AstraZeneca vaccines to a total of 60 million doses worldwide. Then on May 17, Biden expanded that pledge by another 20 million Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J doses, bringing the total to 80 million. According to Biden, 60 million would be donated through COVAX. Of these, 20 million were destined for Latin America and the Caribbean. The remaining 20 million will bypass COVAX and go directly toward regional priorities for the United States, including Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, and Panama.

The president then stepped up the program significantly with a June 9 pledge to purchase and then donate 500 million Pfizer doses for low- and lower-middle income countries, including Bolivia, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. These donations will go out through COVAX over the next two years.

 

Biden had originally announced that the original 80 million doses would be distributed by the end of June. Logistical challenges abounded, however, such as ensuring that countries have supplementary supplies like needles and alcohol pads, guaranteeing that there was dependable cold storage, and securing customs arrangements. The United States has also struggled to access its own stockpile of AstraZeneca vaccines due to contamination issues at a manufacturing facility, and many countries are still waiting to hear what their allocation is.

The Dominican Republic is the only Latin American country promised doses yet to have receive either an allocation or a delivery.

Mexico

Before the pandemic, 350 million people crossed the U.S.-Mexico border on an average each year. Given the importance of that border region, Mexico has been a priority recipient for Washington and thus received two tranches of vaccines: 2.7 million AstraZeneca doses in late March and early April and 1.4 million Johnson & Johnson doses on June 15.

With the Johnson & Johnson shipment, Mexico is prioritizing vaccinating those in states along the U.S. border, sending 1.3 million doses to the state of Baja California alone in June. Mexican Secretary of Security and Citizen Protection Rosa Icela Rodríguez announced on June 25 that all citizens of Baja California 18 and up had received at least one vaccine dose.

About 93,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson allotment are being used in border cities in the state of Sonora. The hope of the U.S. and Mexican governments is that driving up vaccination rates in these northern states will pave the way to reopening the border, which has been closed for nonessential travel since March 2020. The border restrictions, renewed monthly, are next set to expire on August 21, but may be extended once again. Special vaccine campaigns have yet to kick off in the border states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas, though there have been efforts by both San Diego and El Paso counties to vaccinate Mexican maquiladora workers, many of whom work in factories owned by U.S. firms.

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