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Blinken: No, US won't play politics with vaccine distribution

The secretary of state dismissed an idea from Rep. Ted Lieu that we should help "allies first," and took a jab at China.

Asia-Pacific

Secretary of State Antony Blinken denied that American vaccine donations are tied to political conditions at a congressional hearing Monday.

American vaccines will be sent to countries “where there’s surges, where there’s variants, where some countries need second shots and have a deficit,” Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “All of this [is] based on science, based on equity, and without political favor being demanded in return, unlike some other countries.”

Blinken’s comments were a jab at China, as well as members of his own party.

The Chinese government has been accused of politicizing the vaccine. Honduras and Paraguay say that Beijing offered them doses in exchange for cutting their diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and the Taiwanese government has accused mainland China of putting up political roadblocks to its own vaccination program. China denies both allegations.

Last week, Rep. Ted Lieu (D–Calif.) had also proposed using vaccines as a political reward.

“I strongly disagree with the Biden Administration on their global vaccine rollout. We should help our allies first instead of letting a third party decide where vaccines should go,” Lieu wrote on Twitter. “Since there are not enough vaccines, should we help India or Iran? We should help India first.”

The White House had announced earlier that day that the United States plans to donate 80 million coronavirus vaccine doses by the end of June. Out of the first 25 million doses, a quarter of them are being sent directly to countries in need, and three quarters of them are being distributed through the international COVAX program.

Lieu’s comments were criticized by anti-discrimination groups, as well the Quincy Institute’s own grand strategy director Stephen Wertheim. It was unclear why Lieu decided to use Iran as an example, as it was not on the list of countries set to receive the first 25 million doses.

With Blinken’s comments on Monday, the Biden administration indicated that it does not want to turn vaccines into an explicit political football.

“If we stayed on the current course — before we were distributing the 80 million, before we were looking at increasing production around the world, not just in the United States — we're on track to have the world vaccinated, or at least to have 75 percent or so of the world vaccinated, not until 2024,” Blinken said. “Even if we're fully vaccinated, that doesn't do it, because variants start to perk up.”

MUMBAI-INDIA - January 16, 2021: A medical worker inoculates Vidya Thakur (R), medical dean of the Rajawadi Hospital, with a Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at the hospital (Photo: Manoej Paateel via shutterstock.com)
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