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 roughly 55 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 40 million doses have been distributed, about one third of total U.S. donations.

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, Spain, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico have also donated doses to the region.

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.

The Dominican Republic is the only Latin American country yet to receive a delivery of pledged doses.

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, having received the most doses of any Latin American country.

With many of its donations, Mexico is prioritizing vaccinating communities along the U.S. border. On September 14, the Mexican government announced it concluded its campaign to drive up vaccination rates in 45 border communities across six states. About 90 percent of adults in these communities are vaccinated.  

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 October 21, but may be extended once again.

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