Republican US senator asks Biden to boost global vaccine efforts

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy during a hearing on the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2022 in the Capitol in Washington. Photo by: Shawn Thew / Reuters

A Republican U.S. senator called on President Joe Biden’s administration to step up its global COVID-19 vaccine efforts, warning that the country is missing a chance “to demonstrate to the world what American leadership looks like.”

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“We have an opportunity right now to do the right thing to help save lives, to do the smart thing in terms of our national security, and to check the rise of the Communist Party of China,” said Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana during a Senate Appropriations hearing Tuesday.

He said it was “dangerous” and “immoral” for the U.S. not to do more.

The ask: Kennedy said Biden should make an announcement “this week” that vaccinating the world will be the single most important foreign policy priority for the rest of the year.

“I’m not talking about 20 million doses here, 10 million there,” Kennedy said, adding that there would be bipartisan congressional support to fund a bigger effort.

“It won’t be popular in some quarters, but we ought to do it anyway,” Kennedy said. “[It] will pay a far greater dividend than anything we can do in terms of summits or foreign aid.”

The backstory: Thus far, the U.S. has committed to donating at least 80 million vaccine doses by the end of June and has pledged $4 billion to COVAX, the global vaccine equity initiative.

Why it matters: Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who testified at the hearing, responded to Kennedy’s impassioned speech by saying he was “in violent agreement” with the senator. Blinken then said “stay tuned.” With clear indications of bipartisan support for greater action, this request and Blinken’s response prompt questions about what the Biden administration may do next.

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is a Senior Reporter at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.