(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden said his administration will donate another 17 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine to the African Union, after criticism that the U.S. hasn’t been more generous.
Biden made the announcement at a meeting Thursday with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the White House. Delivery of the single-dose J&J shot is expected in the coming weeks, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
The donation is on top of 50 million doses of coronavirus vaccine the administration has already committed to the African Union, which allocates the shots on behalf of the U.S.
Kenyatta thanked Biden for the pledge, saying the U.S. had done its best to “step up” to help his country and Africa obtain vaccines.
Some health organizations have criticized the U.S. for holding back doses and boosters for Americans as the deadly virus continues to ravage much of the world. In July, Kenyatta said in an interview with the BBC that his country had been “victims of the kind of vaccine nationalism that we have seen during this particular Covid period” and would need to examine ways to boost domestic vaccine production in response.
The Biden administration views the donation as helping to close a vaccine equity gap in which populations of richer and more industrialized nations have far greater access to shots, the U.S. official said.
The White House has said it’s a “false choice” to suggest that administering booster shots in the U.S. is tantamount to denying doses abroad, because both can be done at the same time. The administration has said that it donates three vaccines internationally for every dose given to an American citizen, and has argued U.S. donations outpace those of other countries.
The J&J vaccine is seen as particularly valuable in the developing world because it only requires one shot and is easier to ship and store than the two-dose mRNA vaccines from Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc.
The U.S. has committed to donating over 1.1 billion doses of vaccines, though only about 190 million have shipped so far, according to the State Department.
Kenyatta is the first African leader to visit Biden for a bilateral meeting at the White House since he took office. A second senior administration official said the U.S. was attempting to reset the relationship with Africa and foster a new era based on principles of mutual respect.
Former President Donald Trump referred to some African nations as “shithole countries” in a closed-door meeting in 2018, and a year before that said Africans who received visas to the U.S. would never “go back to their huts,” according to the New York Times.
Biden’s meeting with Kenyatta is expected to touch on some difficult topics. The U.S. is hoping Kenyatta can help to calm a nearly yearlong conflict in neighboring Ethiopia, where a civil war has resulted in a spiraling humanitarian crisis and famine. Continued fighting comes despite U.S. threats -- intended to spur peace talks -- of financial penalties against individuals or entities who persist in fighting or block humanitarian aid.
Kenya -- which currently holds the United Nations Security Council presidency -- has called for a political solution to the conflict.
Kenyatta’s visit also comes with the leader under fire for his family’s alleged offshore financial holdings discovered in the leak known as the Pandora Papers, which revealed around $30 million in previously undisclosed holdings.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday she didn’t expect Biden to “hold back” in the discussion about his concerns about inequities in the international finance system, but also said the “primary focus” of the meeting would be the range of regional policy interests the U.S. shares with Kenya.
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