WASHINGTON -- Afghanistan is among the countries slated to receive the first of 80 million coronavirus vaccine doses that the United States will distribute globally before July.
US President Joe Biden Thursday (June 3) outlined his plan for the first of 80 million coronavirus vaccine doses that the United States will distribute globally before July, with 75% of shots disbursed via the Covax programme.
"We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values," Biden said in a statement.
Earlier this year, Biden pledged to export 60 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to countries around the world -- then bumped it up to 80 million.
The commitment to help struggling nations comes as significant progress has occurred in rolling out vaccinations in the United States.
"The process to export the first 25 million is under way," White House COVID-19 response co-ordinator Jeff Zients said. "We will deliver on the president's commitment of 80 million doses by the end of June."
The first tranche is coming from the federal supply of doses and will include a combination of the three vaccines with current US emergency use authorisation: Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, he said.
For the doses shared through Covax, the United States will provide vaccines to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, South and Southeast Asia, and Africa as it aims to help stave off fresh surges of infections.
About seven million of the US plan's first 25 million doses are allocated for Asia, especially India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Vietnam.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and vaccine alliance Gavi co-founded Covax to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, particularly to low-income countries.
It has delivered almost 80 million doses to 127 territories to date.
Overcoming vaccine delivery hurdles
Afghanistan has faced more hurdles than most in its response to the global pandemic, Gavi said an April 20 report, "Resourceful Optimism: Fighting COVID-19 in Afghanistan".
The Taliban, who have a long history of obstructing vaccination campaigns, seized a consignment of vaccines in Faryab province in March during the first phase of the vaccine's roll-out.
The country also has "a uniquely vulnerable public health setting", the report said, with only 9.4 skilled health workers, and just 1.9 doctors, per 10,000 patients.
"For reasons of rugged geography and pervasive insecurity, an estimated 15% of Afghanistan is considered a 'white area' -- a zone beyond the reach of health services," the report said.
And at the start of the pandemic, it said, Afghanistan had no laboratories equipped to diagnose COVID-19.
Since the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in Afghanistan in February 2020 -- the patient was an Afghan national returning to Herat province from Iran -- there have been 57,534 confirmed cases and 2,533 deaths, according to official data.
People on the ground say the real toll is significantly higher, according to the Gavi report.
In meetings earlier this year, senior government officials raised doubts about the likelihood of safely delivering COVID-19 vaccines to all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.
The road between Kabul and Kandahar had been blocked for some 17 days at that point, they pointed out.
Despite the Taliban having blown up vital roads, bridges and other infrastructure such as dams in a number of Afghan provinces, the vaccines are still able to reach provincial health centres across the country.
And despite the Farayab incident, vaccines have made it to all provinces.