Administrator Samantha Power at the Development Ministerial on COVID-19
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Hello everyone; I want to thank you all for meeting today on COVID-19. I’m going to offer a few framing remarks for our discussion today.
We’ve all had the chance to participate in many ministerials and my great hope is that this is going to be a ministerial that we can even look back on in the future and view as a turning point in our response to this pandemic.
Two years ago, almost exactly, many of the first cases that were tested and later confirmed to be COVID-19 began appearing. Few realized it at the time, but it was the beginning of what would soon become one of the deadliest pandemics in history.
Almost exactly one year after that, a grandmother in the UK became the first person to receive a COVID vaccine as part of a mass vaccination campaign. You might say at that point it was, quoting Churchill, “ the end of the beginning.”
Today, we have powerful vaccines and promising therapeutics in hand and billions of doses administered, we also have a new ominous Omicron variant potentially threatening much of our progress, and we are gathered to shape the next year in this fight.
What we as a world do now may just determine whether we are at the beginning of the end, so no longer the end of the beginning, are we at the beginning of the end of our race against COVID, or caught in yet another lap of what seems an enduring relay.
And what I want to talk about briefly here before we get going is the extent to which the nature of our challenge has changed.
For the past year, the story of COVID-19 around the world has been a struggle for vaccine equity—rich nations replete with doses while poorer nations fought to secure vaccines for their people. But thanks to the efforts of many many people and many institutions and nations including the United States, thanks to the tireless work of COVAX, the African Union, and other regional leaders, that story is now changing fast.
Over the past year, the United States has committed 1.2 billion vaccines to partner countries and delivered more than 290 million of those. We have invested in vaccine production capacity in countries like India, South Africa, and Senegal, so that in the future, fewer people would have to depend on vaccine donations from wealthy countries. All of this has been done with no strings attached or expectations—we do it because it is the right thing to do but it is also, we know, the smart thing to do.
Today, and this is the point I really want to stress, we are at an inflection point. The appeal from our partner nations has expanded. They are not just asking for doses; they are urging us to provide support that will allow them to administer those doses. Vaccines from some bilateral donors are finally arriving, but they are often hitting the tarmac too close to their expiration date for local health systems to distribute them. In other cases, a lack of cold chain capacity or a shortage of healthcare workers limits a country’s ability to get vaccines to those who need them. And finally, many countries are battling a lack of confidence in vaccinations amidst misinformation and willful disinformation, a phenomenon virtually every country on earth–– including the United States––has had to confront and is confronting. As a result, despite the availability of doses, we are seeing a growing number of countries postpone or even turn them down out of concern they may not be able to get them into people’s arms.
From this day forward, I hope we can ramp up our focus and our ambition on securing not only vaccines but actual vaccinations.
This is going to require a historic mobilization—but it is one that can build on past efforts. Since COVID-19 first emerged, the United States has worked with many of you and your institutions, or nations, to help prevent the pandemic’s spread, to distribute badly needed health supplies, and encourage the uptake of vaccines. In more than 100 countries, the U.S. Government has spent more than $950 million to help supply countries with everything from the ultra-cold freezers they need to keep vaccines at subzero temperatures to the refrigerated trucks needed to get them where they need to go. We've also trained health workers to give shots and monitor for outbreaks, and designed public information campaigns that help fight rumors and build the confidence needed to overcome vaccine hesitancy.
Just to offer a few examples, in Bangladesh, we’ve helped the government create a cold chain that is now making sure millions of vaccines stay potent as they’re transported to people in distant communities. In South Africa, we’ve helped local experts stand up vaccination sites in remote rural areas. In Cameroon, we hit the airwaves, posted billboards, and handed out fliers, helping support a major vaccination campaign that has actually led to a 100-fold increase in the rate of daily vaccinations. And again this is just outside support backing the people who are making the true difference which is those on the front lines.
Today, at this critical inflection point, I’m pleased to announce that the U.S. is building on this work by introducing a new effort to get a shot in every arm: the Initiative for Global Vaccine Access. We’re going to spend an additional $400 million to double down on our efforts to help countries raise vaccination rates and save lives. This money will speed efforts both to get shots in arms and to support vaccine manufacturing in low-and-middle-income countries.
In keeping with the Biden administration’s focus on vaccinating the world while supporting the frontline public health response, our commitment will also deliver surge support to overwhelmed health systems in COVID-19 hotspots, we’re going to help countries protect frontline staff, and expand access to scarce and precious life-saving oxygen.
Building on the pledges announced earlier this year at the September Global COVID-19 Summit, this will bring total U.S. commitments on vaccine readiness and delivery to more than $1.6 billion. We call here today on other donor nations, international financial institutions, multilateral organizations, and the private sector to dig deep and find more resources, urgently, to help low-income countries boost their vaccination rates.
Early next year, President Biden will once again gather world leaders for a global COVID-19 Summit, focused on reaching the WHO’s goal of fully vaccinating at least 70 percent of the global population. Today, as you all know, roughly 40 percent of the world is fully vaccinated, but in low-income countries, that figure is just three percent.
Next year’s Leaders Summit will be a crucial moment of accountability for all of us in demonstrating the will and in mobilizing the resources necessary to dramatically increase these percentages.
If the story of 2020 was arguably the sprint to discover a vaccine, and the story of 2021 was the sprint to produce them, the story of this coming year just has to be the sprint to turn those vaccines into vaccinations. If we are able to come together at next year’s Leaders Summit—to mobilize the resources and demonstrate the will that’s necessary—we can finally end the race against this pandemic.
I thank you so much for being here and I will now ask several colleagues to offer additional remarks to frame our conversation today. I’m going to start with my colleague Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she’s going to start by sharing her perspective on the state of the pandemic.
Rochelle, thank you for joining us.