WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will call for a renewed international commitment to attack COVID-19 as he convenes a second virtual summit on the pandemic and marks 1 million deaths in the United States.
“As a nation, we must not be numb to such pain,” Biden said in a statement. “To heal, we must remember. We must remain vigilant in this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible.”
The president called on Congress to provide more funding for tests, vaccines and treatments, something lawmakers have been unwilling to offer so far.
The lack of funds — Biden has requested another $22.5 billion of what he calls urgently needed money — is a reflection of a wavering resolve at home that jeopardizes the global response to the pandemic.
Eight months after he used the first-of-its-kind summit to announce an ambitious pledge to donate 1.2 billion doses of vaccine to the world, the urgency for the US and other nations to respond has diminished.
The momentum for vaccines and treatments has faded even as infectious variants rise and billions of people around the world remain unprotected.
The White House said Biden will address the opening of the virtual summit on Thursday morning with pre-recorded remarks, arguing that addressing COVID-19 “must remain an international priority.” The United States is co-hosting the summit along 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 nation.
After the delivery of more than a billion vaccines to the developing world, the problem is no longer that there are not enough injections, but the lack of logistical support to get the doses to the weapons. According to government data, more than 680 million doses of donated vaccines went unused in developing countries because they expired early and couldn’t be administered quickly enough. As of March, 32 poorest countries had used less than half of the COVID-19 vaccines sent to them.
US assistance to promote and facilitate vaccines 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; to fight disinformation; and hiring 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’re going to keep fighting for more funding here,” Psaki said. “But we will continue to push other countries to do more to help the world progress as well.”
Congress has refused to accept the price of COVID-19 relief and has so far refused to agree to the package due to political opposition to the imminent end of pandemic-era immigration restrictions at the U.S.-U.S. border. Mexico. Even after a consensus for virus funding briefly emerged in March, lawmakers decided to eliminate global aid funding and solely focus assistance on shoring up U.S. supplies of vaccines and booster therapies.
Biden warned that if Congress fails to act, the US could lose access to the next generation of vaccines and treatments, and that the nation will not have a sufficient supply of booster doses or the antiviral drug Paxlovid by the end of this year. It is also sounding the alarm that more variants will emerge if the US and the world do not do more to contain the virus globally.
“To beat the pandemic here, we must beat it everywhere,” Biden said last September during the first world summit.
The virus has killed more than 995,000 people in the US and at least 6.2 million people worldwide, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. .
Demand for COVID-19 vaccines has fallen in some countries as infections and deaths have fallen globally in recent months, particularly as the omicron variant has proven less severe than earlier versions of the disease. . For the first time since it was created, the UN-backed COVAX effort is “in sufficient supply to enable countries to meet their national vaccination targets,” according to Gavi vaccine alliance executive director Dr. Seth Berkley. , which is in charge of COVAX.
Still, despite more than 65% of the world’s population receiving 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 all people by June.
In countries like Cameroon, Uganda and the Ivory Coast, officials have struggled to get enough refrigerators to transport vaccines, ship enough syringes for mass campaigns and get enough health workers to inject the shots. Experts also point out that more than half of the health workers needed to administer vaccines in the poorest countries are underpaid or not paid at all.
Donating more vaccine, critics say, would miss the point entirely.
“It’s like donating a bunch of fire engines to countries that are on fire, but don’t have water,” said Ritu Sharma, deputy chairman of the charity CARE, which has helped immunize people in more than 30 countries, including India. South Sudan and Bangladesh.
“We can’t give countries all these vaccines but there’s no way to use them,” he said, adding that the same infrastructure that was managed in the US is now needed elsewhere. “We had to address this problem in the US, so why aren’t we using that knowledge now to get vaccines to the people who need them most?”
Sharma said more 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 follow a cohesive strategy to end the pandemic rather than a piecemeal approach that will extend the lifespan of this crisis,” said Gayle Smith, executive director of The ONE Campaign.
GAVI’s Berkley also said countries are increasingly requesting the more expensive messenger RNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, which are not as readily available as the AstraZeneca vaccine, which made up the bulk of COVAX’s supply last year.
The emergence of variants such as delta and omicron has prompted many countries to switch to mRNA vaccines, which appear to provide more protection and are in greater demand globally than traditionally manufactured vaccines such as AstraZeneca, Novavax, or those made by China and Russia.