Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Virtual COVID-19 Global Action Meeting
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Greetings, everyone. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening. Thank you, thank you, thank you for joining from wherever you are around the world.
We are meeting at what is, I think, a decisive moment in the fight against COVID-19. On the one hand, the Omicron variant is receding in many places, and thanks to the ingenuity of modern science, we’re armed with lifesaving vaccines; millions of people are getting vaccinated each day, and that’s in no small part due to the measures and efforts that many of you have undertaken, stretching back to the beginning of this pandemic.
At the same time, we all know the reality that the pandemic is far from over. As you know, the World Health Organization set the goal of vaccinating 70 percent of people in every country across every income level by this September. At the rate we’re going, we are well below our target. One recent analysis found that while nearly 80 percent of people are vaccinated in upper, middle, and high-income countries, the number falls to less than 11 percent in low-income countries. And last month, the World Health Organization warned that nearly 90 countries from around the world are not on track to reach the 70 percent goal. That means billions of people remain vulnerable to COVID, and the world remains vulnerable to new variants, which may be even more lethal and transmissible than the ones we’ve experienced so far.
So we need to take all efforts and contributions that our countries are already making and intensify them and better coordinate them so that we can achieve our targets and end the acute phase of COVID-19 this year. That’s why we’re getting together today.
The Global Action Plan that we’re launching today takes on what the international community has identified as the biggest barriers left in the fight to end this pandemic. It’s our clearest roadmap yet, laying out six key lines of effort that, when pursued together, will help us achieve the goals laid out by President Biden at the Global COVID-19 Summit last year: vaccinate the world, save lives now, prepare the world against future pandemics. It’s designed explicitly to match a country’s unique strengths with pressing areas of need. Maybe that’s logistics and operations. Maybe it’s a strong pharmaceutical industry.
Our challenge now is to connect these capacities with where they can do the most good for the most people. We’ve identified gaps, and we’re closing gaps. That’s what the Global Action Plan plans to do. Let me briefly lay out each line of effort.
First, and most important, we’ve got to continue to get more shots into more arms more quickly. That means addressing equity gaps by increasing access to effective vaccines around the world. But we know that increasing supply by itself is not enough to turn vaccines into vaccinations. We must also solve last-mile challenges, like access to cooling technologies for vaccines in transit. Japan has shown leadership in this area with its “Last One Mile Support” program to about 60 countries. We’ve got to keep building on that progress.
Second, we must strengthen the supply chains for vaccines and other critical supplies, like syringes, test kits, treatments. The pandemic has highlighted just how vulnerable they are. We can’t hit the WHO target without these supplies.
Third, we’ve got to address the information gaps that lead to low confidence in vaccines. In some cases, bad actors are spreading misinformation and disinformation. In others, there’s a lack of clear information about how safe and effective the vaccines are. By tailoring our message to local audiences, we can provide clear guidance, push back against disinformation, and increase vaccine confidence.
Fourth, we need to provide more support, including vaccinations, equipment, training to health care workers who have been on the front lines of this pandemic from the start, risking their own lives to save others.
Fifth, we’ve got to make it easier for COVID patients to access treatments and therapeutics, because ending the pandemic isn’t only about protecting people from the virus; it’s also helping save lives of those who get sick.
And sixth and finally, we have to look to the future and strengthen global health security for the next emergency. Among other things, that means ensuring sustainable financing for pandemic preparedness and response, including well financed international institutions and a new fund at the World Bank that focuses specifically on providing for the capacity that we need to prevent, to detect, to respond to future threats. And I want to commend Indonesia for using its leadership of the G20 this year to move us forward on this front.
Again, thank you to everyone in this meeting for embracing the Global Action Plan and for leading the coordination of this effort with concrete commitments. Our work today will help lay the groundwork for the next Global COVID-19 Summit, which President Biden will host later this spring.
For our part, the United States will continue to provide vaccine doses around the world through COVAX. To date, we’ve delivered over 435 million safe, effective vaccines free of charge with no political strings attached as part of our overall commitment to donate 1.2 billion doses by the end of the year. This includes our latest donation of 5 million Johnson & Johnson doses to the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, the innovative effort by the African Union to help smaller countries negotiate as a group for vaccine purchases.
Beyond our vaccine donations, the United States has committed to staying involved in all six lines of effort and playing a lead coordinating role on bolstering supply chain resilience and strengthening global health security.
In everything we do, we’ll seek to work closely with our partners, because this pandemic is the definition of a crisis that no country can solve alone. We know it’s possible when we work together. Just look at what Uganda recently accomplished.
In early November, only 14 percent of all Ugandan adults had received their first dose of the vaccine. Then a major team effort commenced. The Ugandan Government led a mass vaccination campaign, carried out by hundreds of health care workers. They tracked their progress with a tool developed by the WHO. Influential community leaders batted down misinformation. Donors from around the world contributed doses. And by late December, almost half of all adults in Uganda had received their first shot – from 14 to 47 percent in just six weeks.
That’s what’s possible when all of us – governments, international organizations, civil society, health care workers, individual citizens – work in unison. With that level of coordination, partnership, and commitment, we can and we will end this pandemic.
So thanks again to everyone for joining today, and for the days ahead, as we work together, as we move together, as we coordinate together. I’m looking forward to the conversation, and even more to this work, and to finally getting ahead of COVID-19 this year. Thanks very much.