U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are traveling to the southern U.S. state of Georgia on Friday, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the massage parlor shootings near Atlanta on Tuesday.The U.S. leaders will meet with Asian American leaders to discuss the shootings and the targeting of people of Asian descent in the U.S. in apparent hate crimes.Georgia officials, however, have not yet labeled the massage parlor shootings as hate crimes because the suspect said the shooting spree was a result of his sexual issues.The president and the vice president will also meet with officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while in Georgia to get an update on the U.S.  handling the COVID-19 pandemic.They were originally also planning to participate in a “Help Is Here” rally to promote the trillion-dollar COVID relief package.The rally has been postponed in the wake of the shootings that killed eight people, six of Asian descent. Biden is, however, slated to meet with former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams whose organizing is widely viewed as being responsible for the Democratic presidential win in Georgia in November, the first Democratic presidential victory in the southern state since 1992.Meanwhile, U.S. and Mexican officials deny Washington is attaching any strings to a likely shipment of millions of coronavirus vaccine doses to America’s southern neighbor at a time of heightened migration passing through Mexico en route to the United States.“[P]reventing the spread of a global pandemic is part of one of our diplomatic objectives. Another one of our diplomatic objectives is working to address the challenges at the border. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that those conversations are both ongoing and happening,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki replied when asked about a link between lending vaccine supplies and commitments from Mexico to tighten the flow of migrants heading north.“These are two separate issues, as we look for a more humane migratory system and enhanced cooperation against COVID-19, for the benefit of our two countries and the region,” said a statement from Roberto Velasco, director general for the North America region at Mexico’s foreign ministry.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 10 MB480p | 14 MB540p | 19 MB720p | 37 MB1080p | 74 MBOriginal | 224 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioPsaki confirmed Thursday that there are discussions to send 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada.“We are assessing how we can lend doses,” the press secretary said. “That is our aim. It’s not fully finalized yet.”Mexican officials say an agreement among the United States, Canada and Mexico is to be announced Friday.Tens of millions of doses of the Astra Zeneca-University of Oxford vaccine are in U.S. manufacturing sites. That company’s vaccine has been authorized in numerous countries, but not yet in the United States.The AstraZeneca vaccine has received some negative publicity and there is speculation some Americans will hesitate to take that vaccine after it receives expected approval in the United States.Several countries in Europe this week suspended use of the AstraZeneca doses after reports that a few people who received it later developed blot clots and severe bleeding.Europe’s drug regulator Thursday declared the AstraZeneca vaccine safe, adding that a review of the 17 million people who received it found they were actually less likely to develop dangerous clots than others who hadn’t received the vaccine.“It makes sense for the United States to loan its surplus of millions of doses to neighbors where it can be put to good use right away,” said Joshua Busby, assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Texas-Austin.The pending deals with Canada and Mexico, Busby told VOA, do not go far enough because “more countries in the Americas and beyond will need vaccines. But I’m confident that the Biden team is aware of this.”Busby, author of the book Moral Movements and Foreign Policy, said he expects in the coming months the Biden administration will make a major effort to increase global vaccine access “because the longer the epidemic persists globally, the greater the risk of variants that could emerge for which the current vaccines are ineffective.”Asked on Thursday about requests from other countries to make U.S. coronavirus vaccine stock available to them, Psaki replied: “Certainly we’ll have those conversations, and we are open to receiving those requests and obviously making considerations.””Various countries including China have been engaged in so called vaccine diplomacy,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Japanese reporters on Wednesday. “We shouldn’t tie the distribution or access to vaccines to politics or to geopolitics.”Concerns have been raised that the United States and the rest of the West are losing a public relations battle with China and Russia which, at minimum, are using such vaccine distribution to improve their influence and image in developing countries.“Even as nations understandably prioritize their own citizens for vaccines, including their own most vulnerable, we cannot forget that those with the means should also help other countries in need,” said Curtis Chin, former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank.Vaccine diplomacy competition between nations to help other countries can be a good thing, but “where it falls apart is when that competition overrides necessary cooperation and coordination,” Chin told VOA.