WASHINGTON (Reuters) — U.S. Senator Mitt Romney called on Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday to act with more urgency to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to countries in desperate need, noting that international rivals Russia and China have been acting more quickly to send their vaccines abroad.
Romney, an influential moderate Republican voice in the deeply divided Senate, said he was "dismayed to learn" that China and Russia are pushing out their vaccines, while the United States has not been communicating in detail when needy countries can expect doses.
"While the U.S. continues to 'plan' and 'prioritize' vaccine distribution, China is using its weight and its own, far less efficacious, vaccine to push countries needing vaccines to follow China's political goals," Romney wrote in a letter to Blinken seen by Reuters.
He said China could use vaccine diplomacy, for example, to forge closer ties with countries in Latin America, such as Honduras, whose foreign minister recently said the country wanted to avoid breaking long-standing ties with Taiwan, but access to vaccines was more urgent than anything else.
"I respectfully urge you to immediately enter discussions with countries around the world and implement a strategy for vaccine distribution to those countries. Upon doing so, I urge you to announce and publish timelines for vaccine distribution by country," Romney wrote.
As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, poorer countries that make up half the world's population have received just 17% of doses, a situation the World Health Organization head has labeled "vaccine apartheid."
Developed nations have been debating how to handle the situation, including arguing over whether intellectual property rights should be waived for the vaccines to help boost international production.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Mary Milliken and Bill Berkrot)
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