On April 8, Russia Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev gave a wide-ranging interview to the Russian daily Kommersant that focused heavily on Russia’s adversarial relationship with the United States.
Topics included Moscow’s opposition to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; Russia’s denial of involvement in the SolarWinds hacks; the U.S. decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan during WWII; and a reiteration of unfounded charges that U.S.-controlled laboratories abroad are creating biological weapons.
Patrushev was also asked about the statistics released by Russia’s Federal State Statistical Service (Rosstat) showing that coronavirus-related fatalities in the country through January exceeded 200,000 — more than double the figure used by the government's coronavirus task force.
Patrushev said there was no reason to distrust the official coronavirus mortality statistics. However, he didn’t clarify whether he considered Rosstat’s numbers to be official.
The former Federal Security Service (FSB) director then used his answer to attack the U.S.
“Indeed, we weren't ready for things (the pandemic) to develop as they did and so swiftly — no one was ready, but we managed. And now we are actively helping others, unlike the U.S., which is selfish,” Patrushev said.
The claim that the U.S. is not helping other countries is misleading.
Although Washington certainly has been criticized for its vaccine policies, it's also true that the U.S. has taken steps to help others combat the pandemic.
On President Joe Biden’s first day in office in January, his administration issued a national security memorandum on strengthening the U.S. international COVID-19 response.
The document said the U.S. would join the multilateral vaccine distribution operation known as the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility. The administration has also begun planning “for donating surplus vaccines, once there is sufficient supply in the United States.”
COVAX is a global initiative aimed at creating equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contributed $2 billion to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which is co-leading COVAX.
USAID says its contribution is aimed at supporting the purchase and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income countries. Biden announced an additional $2 billion commitment through 2021 and 2022.
“This contribution to COVAX is supporting equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for the world’s most vulnerable and at-risk populations, including front-line health care workers,” USAID said.
USAID further noted its role in combating the “secondary effects of the pandemic” by providing educational and food assistance.
In March, the White House announced the Quad Vaccine Partnership between Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. Working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and COVAX, the partnership seeks to “strengthen and assist countries in the Indo-Pacific with vaccination.”
A large component of that program is expanding the production of COVID-19 vaccines in India. “The Quad committed to delivering up to one billion doses to ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), the Indo-Pacific and beyond by the end of 2022,” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on March 12.
The United States is also planning to provide 2.5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and another 1.5 million doses to Canada.
Still, the U.S. has been criticized for not providing vaccine doses to developing countries, with the Biden administration repeatedly saying that vaccinating the U.S. remains its top priority. Axios reported in March that the U.S. had produced 27% of the world’s vaccine supply and provided none to other countries.
The U.S. and other developed countries have also been criticized for buying up vaccines at the expense of poor and developing countries.
According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, which includes Amnesty International, Frontline AIDS, Global Justice Now, and Oxfam, as of December 2020, “rich nations representing just 14% of the world’s population bought up 53% of all the most promising vaccines.”
They said some developed countries, including the United States, had bought enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate their populations three times over by the end of 2021.
Underlining that point, the 4 million Oxford-AstraZeneca doses that the United States promised to Canada and Mexico are not even authorized for use in the U.S. because the Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve the vaccine.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said wealthy nations are directly responsible for deaths in poorer states as a result of this so-called vaccine nationalism.
The U.S. has defended its approach, noting it has the world’s highest caseloads, with 30,662,171 infections and 555,231 deaths as of April 7.
Still, according to Health Policy Watch, an independent platform based in Geneva that reports on global health policy, China has offered vaccine assistance to 53 developing countries and has exported vaccines to 22 states, while Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is registered in 37 countries.
Japan’s Nikkei financial publication, citing Chinese government data and UNICEF, reports that at least 70 countries and territories have either approved Chinese vaccines or agreed to purchase them. Nikkei reports more than 100 countries or territories have received various kinds of coronavirus-related support from China, including face masks and the deployment of doctors.
Health Policy Watch notes that Western vaccines, including Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna, AstraZeneca-Oxford, and Johnson & Johnson, are largely accessible only to “a select group of high-income countries” in North America, Europe and the Middle East, as well as a few middle- to upper-income states that participated in clinical trials “or swung heavily leveraged deals.”
Still, countries with ostensibly more charitable vaccine diplomacy have also come under some criticism.
The drug regulator in Slovakia, one of a handful of European states to order Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, claimed the doses imported “did not have the same characteristics and properties” as the version of Sputnik V reviewed by The Lancet medical journal, The New York Times reported.
Russia responded by accusing Slovakia’s drug regulator of engaging in an “act of sabotage.”
Two-thirds of U.S. adults support the idea of ensuring vaccine access for the country's citizens first, CNN reported, citing polling by the Pew Research Center. That is true “even if that meant developing countries must wait longer. That was the majority view among both Democrats and Republicans,” the outlet said.