WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will call for renewed international commitment to tackle COVID-19 as he convenes a second virtual pandemic summit and marks “a tragic milestone” as the United States nears one million of dead.
“As a nation, we must not be numb to such grief,” Biden said in a statement Thursday. “To heal, you have to remember. We must remain vigilant in the face of this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible. »
LOOK: How misinformation and partisan division have led to an increase in COVID deaths in the United States
The virus has killed more than 995,000 people in the United States and at least 6.2 million people worldwide, according to figures kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
The president called on Congress to provide more funds for tests, vaccines and treatments, which lawmakers have so far been unwilling to provide.
The lack of funding – Biden has asked for an additional $22.5 billion of what he calls the money he badly needs – is a reflection of a failing resolve at home that jeopardizes the global response to the pandemic.
Eight months after using the first such summit to announce an ambitious pledge to donate 1.2 billion doses of vaccine to the world, the urgency for the United States and other countries to respond has faded.
The momentum for vaccinations and treatments has faded even as more infectious variants increase and billions of people around the world remain unprotected.
The White House said Biden will address the opening of the virtual summit Thursday morning with pre-recorded remarks and argue that the fight against COVID-19 “must remain an international priority.” The United States is co-hosting the summit with Germany, Indonesia, Senegal and Belize.
The United States has shipped nearly 540 million doses of vaccine to more than 110 countries and territories, according to the State Department — far more than any other donor country.
After more than a billion vaccines have been delivered to the developing world, the problem is no longer that there are not enough vaccines but a lack of logistical support to get the doses to the arms. According to government data, more than 680 million doses of donated vaccines sat unused in developing countries because they were due to expire soon and could not be administered quickly enough. As of March, 32 poorest countries had used less than half of the COVID-19 vaccines sent to them.
U.S. aid to promote and facilitate vaccinations abroad dried up earlier this year, and Biden has requested about $5 billion for the effort for the rest of the year.
“We have tens of millions of unclaimed doses because countries lack the resources to build their cold chains, which are basically refrigeration systems; fight against misinformation; and to hire vaccinators,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week. She added that the summit “will be an opportunity to highlight the fact that we need additional funding to continue to be part of this effort around the world.”
“We will continue to fight for more funding here,” Psaki said. “But we will continue to press other countries to do more to help the world move forward as well.”
Congress has balked at the price of COVID-19 aid and has so far refused to accept the package due to political opposition to the impending end to pandemic-era migration restrictions at the US border. -Mexican. Even after a consensus on virus funding briefly emerged in March, lawmakers moved to cut funding for global aid and focus aid only on bolstering the US supply of booster vaccines and in therapies.
Biden warned that if Congress did not act, the United States could lose access to the next generation of vaccines and treatments, and the country would not have enough booster doses or the antiviral drug Paxlovid to survive. later this year. It also sounds the alarm that more variants will emerge if the United States and the world do not do more to contain the virus globally.
“To beat the pandemic here, we have to beat it everywhere,” Biden said last September at the first global summit.
Demand for COVID-19 vaccines has plummeted in some countries as infections and deaths have declined globally in recent months, especially as the omicron variant has been found to be less severe than earlier versions of the sickness. For the first time since its inception, the UN-supported COVAX effort has “enough supplies to enable countries to meet their national immunization goals,” according to the vaccine alliance’s CEO, Dr. Seth Berkley, who runs COVAX.
Yet, although more than 65% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, less than 16% of people in poor countries have been immunized. Countries are highly unlikely to meet the World Health Organization’s goal of vaccinating 70% of the population by June.
In countries like Cameroon, Uganda and Ivory Coast, officials have struggled to get enough refrigerators to transport vaccines, send enough syringes for mass campaigns and get enough health workers. to inject vaccines. Experts also point out that more than half of the health workers needed to administer vaccines in the poorest countries are either underpaid or not paid at all.
Giving more vaccines, critics say, would miss the point.
“It’s like giving a bunch of fire trucks to countries on fire, but they don’t have water,” said Ritu Sharma, vice-president of the charity CARE, which has helped vaccinate people. people in more than 30 countries, including India, South Sudan and Bangladesh.
“We can’t give countries all of these vaccines but no way to use them,” she said, adding that the same infrastructure that got the vaccines delivered in the United States is now needed elsewhere. “We had to tackle this problem in the United States, so why aren’t we now using this knowledge to get vaccines to the people who need them most?”
Sharma said greater investment was needed to counter vaccine hesitancy in developing countries where there are entrenched beliefs about the potential dangers of Western-made drugs.
“Leaders must agree to pursue a cohesive strategy to end the pandemic instead of a piecemeal approach that will prolong the duration of this crisis,” said Gayle Smith, CEO of The ONE Campaign.
GAVI’s Berkley also said countries are increasingly demanding the more expensive messenger RNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, which aren’t as readily available as the AstraZeneca vaccine, which made up the bulk of COVAX’s supply. Last year.
The emergence of variants like delta and omicron has led many countries to switch to mRNA vaccines, which appear to offer more protection and are in greater demand worldwide than traditionally manufactured vaccines like AstraZeneca, Novavax or those made by China and Russia.