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)