Liberia's ex-president: Joe Biden's promise for 500 million Covid vaccines 'is right spirit' but there's a supply issue

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf responds to Joe Biden's promise to deliver 500 million Covid vaccine doses around the world

US President Joe Biden's promise to distribute 500 million doses of Covid vaccine worldwide "is the right spirit", but vaccine developers will nevertheless struggle to supply enough doses, former Liberia president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has said.

Biden announced his plan on Thursday to provide half a billion Pfizer doses to about 100 countries over the next two years. About 200 million will be distributed this year and the goal is to vaccinate the whole world by the end of 2022.

The announcement came after Biden landed in the UK ahead of the G7 Summit in Cornwall.

Sirleaf, who was the president of Liberia between 2006 and 2018 and was the first elected female head of state in Africa, responded to Biden's pledge: "We think that it's a response that's very timely, very significant.

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"I wish there had been some discussion about the distribution of it, but that can certainly be worked out. We hope that this will address particularly the lower and middle income countries that are far behind despite the fact that they have responded very well to the pandemic.

"But it is the right spirit of what he's done. I think there are a few others that have done the same thing to make sure that we get the vaccines to those countries that are in need.

"It's unacceptable that in Africa we have only 2% of the population that has been vaccinated."

Speaking about the Covax scheme and messages ahead of the G7 summit to distribute vaccines to poorer countries, she said: "But that's not all. A lot of those are commitment, and that's good to have commitment, but how do you move from commitment to real action?

"What time will it take for them to get those vaccines out there? What about the supply situation?"

Sirleaf asks: How do you move from commitment to real action?

She suggested that even with the promise to supply vaccines to everyone, there will be a problem with supply: "We know that the pharmaceuticals will not have enough to meet the requirements of the rich countries as much as they have committed to redistribute, so we have to do more."

She continued: "We have to see voluntary licensing so that those countries in Africa that have the capacity can start a process of being able to vaccinate locally and get it to people faster and if that doesn't work, we also talk about the intellectual property waivers.

"No matter what we do, we also need national systems to be addressed. If you don't have a functioning national system that has its own delivery system, well organised to reach the places in countries that have infrastructure constraints, like in rural areas, then all the talk about vaccinating the entire world population by the end 2022 becomes talk."

She said the aim to vaccinate everyone by 2022 was a "a tall order" and a "very aggressive approach" because of the lack of infrastructure in some countries.