GENEVA (AP) — France on Friday became the first rich country to donate COVID-19 vaccines from its national supply to a developing nation through the U.N.'s jab rollout program for low- and middle-income countries, shipping more than 100,000 doses to Mauritania.
Leaders of the COVAX program hailed the French donation, which was announced by President Emmanuel Macron, and called on other rich countries to follow suit at a time of intense competition for short supplies of vaccines — as coronavirus infection counts are on the rise.
“We generally have the means to accelerate our solidarity by donating vaccines,” Macron told a World Health Organization event, announcing the donation to COVAX. "These AstraZeneca vaccines, as I am speaking to you, on their way to West Africa.”
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which helps run COVAX, hailed the “first batch” provided without charge to the program, which amounted to 105,600 doses for Mauritania. It said France will “ramp up its commitment (to COVAX) to at least 5% of its total doses by the end of 2021.”
Macron said France would donate at least 500,000 doses through mid-June to the program, and the total could reach around 13 million from France alone by year-end, officials said.
The announcement came as world leaders, WHO officials, business leaders, non-governmental group chiefs and others marked the one-year anniversary of the “ACT Accelerator,” an umbrella program to get diagnostic tools, therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19 deployed worldwide.
The “ACT-A” program is facing a $19 billion funding shortfall, and officials noted that treatments like the steroid dexamethasone, oxygen supplies and personal protection equipment are lacking in many countries where they are needed to help fight the pandemic.
COVAX, the vaccine pillar of ACT-A, is a relatively well-funded part of the overall program.
While New Zealand has pledged to donate 1.6 million doses of vaccine that it had been set to receive through COVAX, the French donation is the first from a national supply. The donation by France is also set to reach the beneficiary country in coming days, Gavi said.
Spain has pledged to start donating up to 7.5 million doses to COVAX this year, once half of its own population is vaccinated. Based on current vaccination rates, that milestone is expected to be reached by July. Spain's donations would benefit Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Gavi, a Geneva-based public-private partnership, said other countries have expressed interest in donations of doses through COVAX — including Britain, Canada and Norway.
Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed.