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Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Biden administration will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to share with countries around the world, with the option to buy an additional 200 million, two sources familiar with the deal tell Axios.

Why it matters: That's a big step toward making the U.S. a major global vaccine supplier and comes as Biden departs for his first foreign trip as president.

Details: The doses were purchased at a not-for-profit price rather than the $19.50 per dose the U.S. paid in its initial Pfizer contract, according to the sources. Most or all of the doses will be distributed through the global COVAX mechanism.

  • The administration has already said that Biden will press other rich democracies to share doses, including at the G7 on June 11–13. Biden laid out a plan to share an initial 25 million doses last week.
  • Driving the news: Around 200 million available this year and another 300 million in the first half of next year, Politico reports. The Washington Post first reported the purchase of 500 million additional doses.
  • What to watch: Biden could potentially pursue similar deals with Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

The big picture: Biden had employed an "Americans first" approach until very recently, keeping almost all doses produced in the U.S. at home. The U.S. is second in production only to China, which has been sharing and selling doses all over the world.

  • Now with demand slackening at home, the Biden administration has started to shift its focus to donations while also allowing companies like Pfizer and Moderna to start exporting doses.
  • But based on existing contracts, those companies would be expected to ship a large percentage of doses to rich countries. By buying the doses, the U.S. will be in control of where they are sent.
  • It could also give the U.S. flexibility to donate doses now with the confidence that it has a secure future supply of doses in case they are needed for boosters or to vaccinate additional populations, like children.

The state of play: Rich countries like the U.S. still control the lion's share of global doses even as vaccination rates remain below 1% in sub-Saharan Africa and supply is desperately needed in countries like Brazil or Nepal.

  • Meanwhile, the COVAX initiative, which was designed to supply doses to low- and middle-income countries all over the world, is months behind schedule because of export curbs from hard-hit India.
  • That puts additional pressure on the likes of the European Union, another big vaccine producer, to expedite plans to share doses globally.

Go deeper

Sep 16, 2021 - Health

France suspends 3,000 unvaccinated health workers without pay

A nurse tends to a patient at a hospital in France. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty images.

France has suspended about 3,000 health workers without pay for failing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Reuters reports.

Driving the news: The suspensions came after Wednesday's government-imposed deadline for the country's 2.7 million health workers to get at least one dose of the vaccine.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
Sep 16, 2021 - Health

Gottlieb: CDC hampered U.S. response to COVID

The CDC moved too slowly at several points in the coronavirus pandemic, ultimately hindering the U.S. response, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb writes in a new book, Uncontrolled Spread.

The big picture: The book argues that American intelligence agencies should have a much bigger role in pandemic preparedness, even if that's sometimes at the expense of public health agencies like the CDC.

White House invites call with Nicki Minaj to discuss COVID vaccine

Rapper Nicki Minaj is seen leaving the Marc Jacobs Fall 2020 runway show during New York Fashion Week on Feb. 12, 2020, in New York City. Photo: Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images

Nicki Minaj questioned the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine this week on Twitter, prompting an offer from the White House for a call with a doctor to discuss the safety of the vaccine, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed Thursday.

Driving the news: Minaj on Monday wrote on Twitter that she would not attend the Met Gala because she had not received the COVID vaccine, which was a requirement to attend the event.