WASHINGTON -- The Biden administration is buying hundreds of millions more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to donate to the world, according to two people familiar with the deal, as the United States looks to increase efforts to share vaccine with the global population.
The administration is expected to purchase 500 million doses, but the terms are not yet finalized, said the people with knowledge of the deal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the donation.
The announcement of the purchase is scheduled for early next week and timed to coincide with the U.N. General Assembly meeting.
Jeff Zients, the White House covid-19 coordinator, declined to comment on the deal but said vaccine access "will be a big topic of conversation" at the U.N. gathering next week.
"Pfizer is firmly committed to doing all we can to ensure equitable and affordable access to our COVID-19 vaccines for people around the world," Amy Rose, a spokeswoman for Pfizer, said in a statement. "While we don't have any specific news to share today, we are actively working with governments around the world as well as global health partners towards that goal."
The purchase would mark the second major effort by the United States to distribute vaccines to the world. In June, the United States purchased 500 million doses of the vaccine to be distributed by Covax, the World Health Organization-backed initiative to share doses around the globe, and officials said the vaccines would be targeted at low- and middle-income countries.
The White House also formally announced Friday it is hosting a virtual summit of world leaders and global health advocates alongside next week's General Assembly meeting.
"This meeting is about expanding and enhancing our shared efforts to defeat COVID-19, building out from previous gatherings of world leaders and ministers in for like the G7, G20, and Act Accelerator to rally civil society, NGOs, philanthropists, and industry along with world leaders and align on a common vision for defeating COVID-19 together," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
President Joe Biden plans to use Wednesday's summit to call on global leaders to make new commitments to fight the coronavirus pandemic, including fully vaccinating 70% of the world's population by next September, securing billions of additional doses for the developing world and achieving other targets, according to a list obtained by The Washington Post.
The announcement comes amid growing criticism that the United States is not doing enough to help vaccinate the world, especially as the administration moves forward with his plan to offer booster shots to Americans.
The United Nations' health agency, which has repeatedly urged the world to get vaccinated against covid-19 and other illnesses, on Friday declined to say how many of its own staffers have followed that advice.
"We won't have that because it's confidential," said Dr. Margaret Harris, a World Health Organization spokeswoman.
Referring to United Nations personnel, U.N. Geneva spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci said: "We don't disclose this kind of information. It's something that is said to the medical service. So, no, unfortunately, we won't be able to give you these numbers."
Vellucci said she would look into whether percentages of U.N. staff that had been vaccinated could be provided.
In November, the WHO indicated 65 of its staffers had tested positive for covid-19 at the time, confirming information in an internal e-mail obtained by The Associated Press. The U.N. office in Geneva has often indicated how many of its staff tested positive.
Governments list how many people are vaccinated against the coronavirus, and the WHO compiles the information and reports on it. Some countries and companies require vaccines for their workers to go to their jobs.
BRITISH TRAVEL RULES
The British government announced a major simplification of its rules for international travel on Friday, heeding complaints from travelers and businesses that its regulations aimed at staving off the spread of covid-19 were cumbersome and ineffective.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the "simpler, more straightforward system" would allow "more people to travel, see loved ones or conduct business around the world while providing a boost for the travel industry."
He said the changes were possible because of Britain's high vaccination rate. Almost 82% of people 16 and up in the U.K. are fully vaccinated.
Shapps said the U.K. is scrapping its "traffic light" system that ranks countries as red, amber or green -- high, medium or low risk from the coronavirus. The categories have been criticized as unfair, and sudden changes to countries' status have caused headaches for thousands of travelers.
VACCINES FOR YOUTHS
Cuba on Thursday began a massive vaccination campaign for children between the ages of 2 and 10, becoming one of the first nations to do so. Health officials there say Cuba's homegrown vaccines have been found safe to give to young children.
"Our country would not put [infants] even at a minimal risk if the vaccines were not proven safe and highly effective when put into children," Aurolis Otano, director of the Vedado Polyclinic University, told The Associated Press in a vaccination room.
Otano said the circulation of the Delta variant produced an increase in infections among the youngest, so Cuba's scientific community decided to "take the vaccine to clinical trial" and it was approved for children.
The Polyclinic expects to vaccinate about 300 children between 2 and 5. Those between 5 and 10 are receiving their first shot at their schools.
Cambodia began vaccinating 6-to-11-year-olds Friday so students can safely return to schools that have been closed for months due to the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Hun Sen inaugurated the campaign to vaccinate the children, speaking live on state television and his Facebook page as his grandchildren and young family members of other senior officials were shown being given their jabs.
"To protect children's health and their lives is our duty because we want to make sure that once they go back to their schools, these children and their teachers are safe from COVID-19," Hun Sen declared.
Cambodia already has been vaccinating older children, and Hun Sen said he ordered health officials to study if children ages 3 to 5 can also be vaccinated. No date has been announced for schools to reopen.
Nearly 72% of Cambodia's almost 17 million people have received at least one covid-19 shot since vaccinations began in February. China's Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines account for most inoculations.
Information for this article was contributed by Tyler Pager, Laurie McGinley and Dan Diamond of The Washington Post; and Jill Lawless, Andrea Rodriguez and Sopheng Cheang of The Associated Press.