US agrees to buy 500m Pfizer vaccine doses to distribute to 100 countries

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<span>Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The US has reached an agreement with Pfizer to buy 500m doses of their coronavirus vaccine to distribute to nearly 100 countries around the world, as the centrepiece of Joe Biden’s initiative to help vaccinate the world against Covid-19, according to US reports.

Related: Vaccine inequality exposed by dire situation in world’s poorest nations

Under to the scheme, which Biden is expected to announce in the UK on Thursday, the US would pay for the vaccines at cost price. The first 200m doses would be distributed this year, and the remaining 300m in the first half of next year.

According to reports, the vaccines will be donated through Covax, the global initiative to help developing countries face the pandemic, and would go to 92 lower-income countries and the African Union.

The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal cited multiple unnamed sources familiar with the plan.

The global vaccine initiative is part of Biden’s broader strategy of restoring America’s global influence and soft power, which he believed has been eroded by Donald Trump’s four years in office and the increasingly assertive foreign policies of China and Russia.

Pfizer did not comment on the reports but its CEO, Albert Bourla, is expected to join the president for the announcement in the UK.

Biden arrived in the UK on Wednesday evening and addressed US troops at the RAF Mildenhall airbase where Air Force One landed. He outlined his plans in general but did not give details of his planned vaccine diplomacy.

The president intends to use the G7 summit in Cornwall, and the Nato and EU summits in Brussels over the next few days, to make a case for renewed democratic leadership in the world, as a bulwark against the encroachment of autocracies. A significant part of the discussions over the weekend will be about how to achieve a more equitable distribution of vaccines around the world.

At a time when more than 40% of Americans and Britons are fully vaccinated, many of the world’s poorer countries have hardly begun to vaccinate their populations. Haiti has yet to administer a single vaccine, and is not due to receive its first shipment of 130,000 doses until next week.

The G7 summit host, prime minister Boris Johnson, has called on G7 leaders to commit to vaccinating the entire world by the end of 2022.

The US had already agreed on a contract to buy 300m Pfizer/BioNTech doses, so the global initiative will bring the country’s overall purchase to 800m.

Before the new initiative, the Biden administration planned to share at least 80m vaccine doses with the world by the end of the month, 19m of them going to Covax, the global scheme backed by the World Health Organization. An additional 6m shots would be channelled directly to India and other countries suffering severe outbreaks.

Related: China the spectre at the feast as Biden aims to rally democracies on Europe trip

Just over a month ago, the Biden administration announced its backing for a waiver on vaccine patents, with the aim of closing the vast “vaccine gap” between rich and poor countries – but the suggestion met resistance from European countries, who argued that patents were not the main bottleneck to production and distribution, and that waiving patents would discourage future pharmaceutical research and development.

The White House coronavirus response coordinator, Jeffrey Zients, who is reported to have negotiated the deal with Pfizer over the past few weeks, has traveled to the UK with the president. In a statement on Wednesday, he said the president would use the “momentum” of the US inoculation campaign “to rally the world’s democracies around solving this crisis globally, with America leading the way to create the arsenal of vaccines that will be critical in our global fight against Covid-19”.