BOGOTA (Reuters) – The United States should help countries in the Western Hemisphere that do not yet have COVID-19 vaccines to acquire them, Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Thursday.
U.S. President Joe Biden earlier on Thursday said he was setting a new goal of administering 200 million doses in his first 100 days in office, after an initial goal of 100 million doses was met ahead of schedule.
“The distribution of vaccines has been pretty much unequal and we have countries that have bought vaccines but they haven’t been able to receive not even one (dose),” Duque said during a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank and attended by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Roy Blunt.
Some countries have bought up to six times what they need for their populations, Duque added, without specifying which countries he was referring to.
Because the United States is a leader in vaccine production, helping to supply shots could provide it with an important diplomatic tool, Duque said.
“I think it’s also a very important instrument of soft diplomacy that can be very well used with other countries,” he said. “I definitely think that the U.S. can certainly become a leader in the hemisphere to help the countries that have not received vaccines.”
Lack of vaccines could lead to social unrest, Duque said. Blunt, a Missouri Republican, agreed.
“It is destabilizing when people feel like somehow they don’t have fair access to the vaccine,” Blunt said. “And we need to do our best to be sure that we’re assisting our friends.”
“We don’t want other countries who don’t have the friendly intentions that we have coming in and providing vaccines,” he said.
The United States last week agreed to loan about 4 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine it has not yet approved to Mexico and Canada.
Colombia has made agreements for 66.5 million doses of coronavirus vaccines and administered nearly 1.4 million doses.
The government hopes to reach 3 million administered doses by April 17, Duque said.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Bill Berkrot)