By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden will send at least 20 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses abroad by the end of June, marking the first time the United States is sharing vaccines authorized for domestic use.
The move marks a notable pivot from the White House as the administration seeks to use the country's vaccine supply as a diplomatic tool with the pandemic outlook brightening at home.
Biden announced on Monday that his administration will send doses of the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, on top of 60 million AstraZeneca Plc doses he had already planned to give to other countries.
Unlike the others, AstraZeneca's shot is not yet authorized for use in the United States.
"Just as in World War Two America was the arsenal of democracy, in the battle against COVID-19 pandemic our nation is going to be the arsenal of vaccines," Biden said.
The president has been under pressure to share vaccines to help contain worsening epidemics from India to Brazil, where health experts fear new, more contagious coronavirus variants could undermine the effectiveness of available shots.
Biden noted that no other country will send more vaccines abroad than the United States. So far, the United Stages has sent a few million AstraZeneca doses to Canada and Mexico.
"We want to lead the world with our values with this demonstration of our innovation, ingenuity, and the fundamental decency of American people," Biden said.
China, which has exported hundreds of millions of doses mainly to developing countries and pledged to donate at least nearly 4 million doses, said it welcomed the U.S. move but it would not use vaccines as a tool in diplomatic relations.
"We welcome if the U.S. can implement its commitment to vaccine assistance at an early date and provide tangible help to developing countries in their fight against the epidemic," Zhao Lijian, a spokesman at China's foreign ministry, said.
"Unlike the United States, China will not use vaccine influence to lead the world and will not chant empty slogans without action," he said at a regular briefing on Tuesday.
The White House has not provided any details about what countries will receive the shots. Biden said that Jeff Zients, who heads the U.S. vaccine efforts, will now also lead the global vaccine push.
The United States has administered more than 272 million COVID-19 vaccine doses and distributed more than 340 million, according to federal data updated on Monday morning.
With more and more Americans vaccinated, U.S. deaths from COVID-19 last week fell to their lowest in nearly 14 months, while the number of new cases declined for a fifth consecutive week, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county data.
Biden warned that those who do not get vaccinated "will end up paying the price" as he lamented that "we're still losing too many Americans" despite the significant progress.
(Reporting By Steve Holland, Carl O'Donnell and Jarrett Renshaw; Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Writing by Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Trevor Hunnicutt, Bill Berkrot and Andrew Heavens)
Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin buried for trying to work with a GOP that’s been ‘hollowed out and pillaged by Trumpism’
Recalcitrant senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) haven't been willing to back the Democratic voting rights legislation or end the filibuster, and have instead offered their own competing plans and insisted on overcoming Republican obstruction to their party's agenda.
Both Sinema and Manchin have been unwilling to back the For The People Act without the support of at least 10 GOP senators -- which is basically impossible -- and, in a new Daily Beast column, Democratic strategist Max Burns urged Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to challenge them to find 10 Republicans to back their competing voting rights bills or lose the filibuster fight.
"Voter suppression is one of the few unifying ideas left in a Republican Party hollowed out and pillaged by Trumpism," Burns wrote. "Manchin has as much chance at persuading them to undermine their own electoral fortunes as he does at convincing Elizabeth Warren to pass a tax cut for Big Tech."
Republican legislatures have imposed new restrictions on voting after President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump, and Burns said Senate Democrats must do whatever they can to protect those rights.
"When Sinema and Manchin fail to deliver on their big talk about the power of bipartisanship, Schumer and Senate Democrats must be prepared to force a serious effort to kill the filibuster," he wrote. "Without it, GOP efforts to undermine the vote in 2022 and 2024 will proceed with impunity, undermining the marginalized communities that delivered a Democratic Senate and White House on the explicit promise that they would be protected from Republican reprisals."
"Those reprisals are now here," Burns added, "and Senate Democrats are nowhere to be found."
The square in front of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris has been closed to the public after tests again revealed high concentrations of toxic lead particles, the Paris police department said Tuesday.
The fire that ravaged the 13th-century monument two years ago melted some 300 tonnes of lead panelling in the roof, spewing the metal across large swathes of the city.
Exposure risks prompted authorities to forbid access to several areas and even some schools during extensive clean-up operations, with blood tests urged for children and pregnant women.
The square was reopened a few weeks after the fire, with officials promising regular testing of the site.
"Results from the most recent tests showed lead dust concentrations higher than the normal levels for Paris at certain points in the square," the police department said in a statement.
It will reopen after a new cleaning operation and "all readings are back to sufficiently low levels", it said.
While the spire collapsed and much of the roof was destroyed on the evening of April 15, 2019, the efforts of firefighters ensured the great medieval edifice survived the blaze.
But the lead risks delayed work on clearing debris and launching the restoration effort for the gothic landmark, which President Emmanuel Macron wants open for visitors in time for Paris's hosting of the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the blaze, but they have said an accident, possibly caused by a short circuit or discarded cigarette butt, remains the most likely explanation.
© 2021 AFP
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