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Biden administration sending 9 million Covid vaccine doses to Africa

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced Friday that it is sending 9 million Covid vaccine doses to Africa amid growing concerns about the omicron variant.

The new shipment brings the total U.S. donations to Africa to 100 million vaccines, the White House said. An additional two million vaccines will be sent elsewhere in the world.

The shipment is part of President Joe Biden's pledge on Thursday to send more than 200 million vaccines abroad in 100 days.

"The president has been clear from the start: If we want to protect the American people and our economy, we must defeat the virus everywhere," White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said during a briefing Friday morning. "That means we must ensure the rest of the world gets vaccinated."

Zients added that the doses going to Africa are part of 11 million doses being sent out worldwide on Friday.

"That's more doses donated by the U.S. in a single day than what all but seven other countries have donated in total since the start of this pandemic," Zients added.

Despite donations from the U.S. and other Western countries, African nations have largely struggled to vaccinate their populations. Many countries are grappling with supply issues and logistical challenges — such as how to keep the Pfizer vaccine at cold temperatures — as well as vaccine hesitancy among their populations.

African leaders pushed back against the decision by Biden and other Western countries to impose travel restrictions on African nations, arguing that punitive measures were taken after South Africa shared information openly about the new variant.

The U.S. and other wealthy countries have been criticized for racing ahead with their vaccination programs, offering booster shots, while other countries have had difficulty accessing vaccines.

Roughly 10 percent of people in Africa have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, compared to the 64 percent that are vaccinated in North America and 62 percent in Europe.

Zients said the U.S. has now shipped 291 million doses to 110 countries, and reiterated the Biden administration's commitment to donating 1.2 billion doses to foreign nations.

"For context, that means for every one shot the Biden administration has administered in the U.S. to vaccinate Americans, we are donating about three doses to people around the world," Zients said.

"That's American leadership, and we are calling on the rest of the world to step up and join us," he said.