President Biden, under pressure to address the global coronavirus vaccine shortage, announced on Thursday that the United States will buy 500 million doses of vaccine and donate them for use by about 100 low- and middle-income countries over the next year.
“This is about our responsibility, our humanitarian obligation, to save as many lives as we can,” Mr. Biden said in a speech in England, ahead of the meeting of the Group of 7 wealthy democracies. “When we see people hurting and suffering anywhere around the world, we seek to help any way we can.”
In recent months, wealthy nations with robust vaccination campaigns have quickly moved toward inoculating large swaths of their population, but much of the world, particularly Africa, lags far behind, raising fears of more deadly waves that could overwhelm fragile health care systems and spawn new virus variants.
Now, as the leaders of the G7 prepare to meet in England starting on Friday, they are pledging to help close that gap. Mr. Biden said the G7 would announce a broader global strategy for containing the pandemic.
“America knows firsthand the tragedies of this pandemic,” he added, having suffered more than 600,000 deaths — “more deaths from Covid-19 in the United States than from World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and 9/11, combined.”
The donation of 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses is by far the largest yet by a single country, but it would fully inoculate only about 3 percent of the world’s population. The United States will pay $3.5 billion for the Pfizer-BioNTech shots, about $7 apiece, which Pfizer described as a “not for profit” price — much less than the $20 it has paid for domestic use.
“The United States is providing these half billion doses with no strings attached,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re doing this to save lives, to end this pandemic. That’s it. Period.”
The first 200 million doses will be distributed by the end of this year, followed by 300 million by next June, Mr. Biden and Pfizer said. The doses will be distributed through Covax, the international vaccine-sharing initiative, which has lagged behind the hoped-for pace of distributing doses.
In a statement released on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is playing host to the summit as Britain takes up the G7 presidency this year, said it was crucial to use the moment for unified action against the pandemic.
“The world needs this meeting,” he said. “We must be honest: International order and solidarity were badly shaken by Covid. Nations were reduced to beggar-my-neighbor tactics in the desperate search for P.P.E., for drugs — and, finally, for vaccines,” he added, referring to personal protective equipment.
He said now was the time to “put those days behind us.”
“This is the moment for the world’s greatest and most technologically advanced democracies to shoulder their responsibilities and to vaccinate the world, because no one can be properly protected until everyone has been protected,” he added.
“We have to end Covid-19, not just at home, which we’re doing, but everywhere,” Mr. Biden told United States troops at R.A.F. Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, on Wednesday evening. “There’s no wall high enough to keep us safe from this pandemic or the next biological threat we face, and there will be others. It requires coordinated multilateral action.”