The United States on Thursday (July 22) announced it is donating two million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Tajikistan and Georgia, while calling on China to co-operate in an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
Tajikistan is slated to receive 1.5 million doses of the Moderna shot via the COVAX international vaccine distribution system on Sunday, and Georgia will get 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Saturday, a White House official said.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has delivered over half a million dollars' worth of COVID-19 laboratory supplies and equipment to the Tajik Ministry of Health and Social Protection since the pandemic began.
The United States wants to be the world's "arsenal" in the fight against COVID-19, the White House official said.
President Joe Biden has pledged to share 80 million doses of vaccine with the rest of the world.
Washington has pledged $2 billion to COVAX and also plans to buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine for countries of the African Union and 92 other low income nations.
"We are doing this with the singular objective of saving lives," the White House official said.
'Irresponsible and dangerous'
China and Russia, meanwhile, have engaged in what critics call "vaccine diplomacy" -- pledges to donate vaccines to win favour with poorer countries.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has called Chinese-made vaccines a "global public good", but international health specialists warn the low quality jabs could be creating more problems as new variants of the disease continue to spread.
At the same time, China has been stonewalling the World Health Organisation (WHO) investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
A second stage of the international probe should include audits of Chinese labs, the WHO said last week. The United States has pushed for an investigation into a possible leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
New evidence has emerged that the Wuhan biotech lab may have ties to the Chinese military.
The proposal outlined by WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus included "audits of relevant laboratories and research institutions operating in the area of the initial human cases identified in December 2019".
But Chinese Vice Health Minister Zeng Yixin on Thursday said he was "extremely surprised" by the plan, which he said showed "disrespect for common sense and arrogance towards science".
A White House official described China's stance as "irresponsible and frankly dangerous" and said it was "not a time to be stonewalling".
Beijing must 'be transparent'
Vehemently rejected by Beijing, the idea that COVID-19 may have emerged from a lab leak has been gaining momentum.
Beijing has insisted that a leak would have been "extremely unlikely", citing the conclusion reached by a joint WHO-Chinese mission to Wuhan in January.
That investigation came after more than a year of delays and political wrangling and was tightly controlled by Beijing.
China has faced accusations from the WHO that it did not share the necessary raw data during the first phase of the investigation, with Tedros, the WHO chief, urging Beijing to "be transparent, to be open and co-operate" on a second phase.
The WHO was able to send a team of independent, international specialists to Wuhan only in January, more than a year after COVID-19 first surfaced there, to help Chinese counterparts probe the pandemic's origins.