On October 11, a journalist from Chinese state-run Phoenix Television asked China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian about “claims” that the United States “had provided more vaccines than every other country in the world combined.”
The journalist added that, unlike Russia and China, the United States “is not asking a single thing in return.”
Zhao replied that “China has provided more than 1.4 billion doses of vaccines to more than 100 countries and international organizations,” adding that the country was ramping up efforts to “efforts to provide two billion doses to the world this year.”
Zhao said that in addition to a $100 million donation to the global vaccine initiative COVAX, China would also give 100 million additional vaccine doses “to fellow developing countries” by year’s end.
“As for the remarks made by the U.S. side, I want to say that vaccines are used to prevent and curb the epidemics and save lives and should not be used as a tool for political propaganda or selfish gains,” he said. “It is hoped that the U.S. could honor its vaccine aid promise at an early date, instead of offering a Barmecide feast to developing countries.”
This portrayal is misleading.
Zhao uses the word “provide” to gloss over the fact that a vast majority of Chinese vaccines have been sold rather than donated. While the United States has hit snags in providing vaccines globally, it remains far and away the largest donor of COVID-19 vaccine doses.
The claim that Phoenix Television referred to is likely an August 3 White House press release, which announced the United States had “donated and shipped 110 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccines to more than 60 countries.”
Citing the United Nations, the White House press release stated: “This is more than the donations of all other countries combined and reflects the generosity of the American spirit.”
According to recent date from UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund), the United States has donated 188.4 million doses, 177 million of which have been delivered.
The health-focused nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation said the U.S. had delivered 166.1 million out of 1.1 billion pledged doses as of October 12. That does not include 14.3 million doses that have been shipped but not delivered.
The U.S. State Department tallied 186 million vaccine dose deliveries as of October 11.
As of September 24, the United States had given 95.7 million out of the 130 million total vaccine doses donated to COVAX.
UNICEF data shows that China, the world’s second-largest vaccine donor, has pledged approximately 62 million doses, 45.4 million of which have been delivered.
Beijing-based Bridge Consulting gave a higher estimate. Citing publicly available data, the consultancy said Beijing had donated 75 million doses as of October 11.
UNICEF data shows that globally, 382.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been donated, 318 million of which have been delivered. While that would put the United States below half the global donation total, the figure comes more than two months after the initial White House press release.
In September, for example, the European Union pledged to donate an additional 200 million vaccine doses by mid-2022, bringing its total donation pledge to 450 million.
Still, the United States remains the clear donation front-runner.
That does not mean the United States has not fallen short of initial promises. The White House, for example, claimed in its August 3 announcement that the 110 million doses were “a significant down payment on hundreds of millions of more doses that the U.S. will deliver in the coming weeks.”
The White House had earlier pledged to deliver 80 million doses globally by the end of June. The Biden administration later shifted the goal posts, saying its plan was to “allocate,” but not deliver, the 80 million doses by that time.
Infrastructure, storage and distribution challenges in the developing world have also hampered U.S. vaccine donation efforts.
The vast majority of U.S. vaccine donations are Pfizer-BioNTech, which require cold storage of –70°C and dilution before injection.
China’s Sinovac's vaccine can be stored at refrigerator temperature of 2-8°C, providing a major advantage when being shipped globally.
Still, the bulk of China’s vaccine doses have been “provided” on a commercial basis.
The BBC, citing Airfinity, a data analytics company, reported that as of October 8, China had exported commercially 1.1 billion doses “as either bulk substances or finished doses.”
Approximately 110 million of those doses were purchased by COVAX.
During a speech at the 13th BRICS Summit in September, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China would donate another 100 million doses to developing countries by the end of the year.
The World Health Organization has stressed that 11 billion vaccine doses would be needed to end the pandemic and vaccinate 70 percent of the world’s population.
As of October 11, Statista reported that 6.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered globally.
China has administered approximately 2.2 billion vaccines domestically, and provided roughly 1.14 billion vaccines internationally (by and large commercially.)
The United States has administered 402 million vaccines doses domestically and, as previously mentioned, delivered 177 million doses (as donations) globally, according to UNICEF data. Data for U.S. commercial vaccine deals abroad is not available.
The European Union administered 743.6 million vaccine doses domestically. According to data provided by Airfinity to the BBC, the European Economic Area countries (the EU member states plus Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway) have so far exported 853 million vaccine doses.