PARIS - France will donate an initial 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine to developing countries this month, the first European Union member to send its own supplies to the COVAX initiative for poorer countries, an official said on Wednesday.
French President Emmanuel Macron has urged EU countries to send 5% of their own vaccine supplies to developing countries to hamper the development of new variants and stop Russia and China from gaining a diplomatic advantage by sharing their shots.
"France will inaugurate the European vaccine sharing mechanism with COVAX," an adviser to Macron said on Wednesday. "We very much hope that other countries will commit to physically sharing vaccines with COVAX."
The COVAX facility, backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), aims to secure 2 billion vaccine doses for lower-income countries by the end of 2021.
In March, it said the target was to deliver 237 million doses of AstraZeneca's shot to 142 countries by the end of May, and it also shipped its first Pfizer shots.
French officials have expressed concern that developed countries around the globe, which are rushing to vaccinate their own population, have only committed cash to COVAX and refrained from sending doses from their own reserves.
France has committed to sending 500,000 doses by mid-June, the French adviser said. The first batch of AstraZeneca doses, taken from France's own expected deliveries, will be sent to COVAX "imminently", the adviser said.
(Reporting by Michel Rose; editing by Philippa Fletcher) ((email@example.com; +33149495071; Reuters Messaging: Twitter: https://twitter.com/MichelReuters))