On Thursday (May 20), US Senator Mitt Romney urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to work more quickly to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to countries in dire need, recalling that foreign rivals Russia and China have been working more quickly to send their vaccines abroad.
Romney, a powerful moderate Republican voice in the sharply split Senate, said he was “dismayed to learn” that China and Russia are rushing vaccinations to vulnerable countries because the US has not communicated in depth when they should receive doses.
“While the US continues to ‘plan’ and ‘prioritise’ vaccine distribution, China is using its weight and its own, far less efficacious, vaccine to push countries needing vaccines to follow China’s political goals,” Romney wrote in a letter to Blinken seen by Reuters.
He said that China might use vaccine diplomacy to strengthen relations with Latin American countries such as Honduras, whose foreign minister recently said that the country wanted to avoid breaking long-standing ties with Taiwan, but that access to vaccinations was more important than anything else.
“I respectfully urge you to immediately enter discussions with countries around the world and implement a strategy for vaccine distribution to those countries. Upon doing so, I urge you to announce and publish timelines for vaccine distribution by country,” Romney wrote.
As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, developing nations, which account for half of the world’s population, have received just 17% of doses, a condition labelled “vaccine apartheid” by the World Health Organization’s president.
Developed countries have been discussing how to address the issue, and whether intellectual property protections for vaccinations should be waived in order to increase foreign production.