At Covid summit, Biden sets ambitious goals to vaccinate the world


WASHINGTON – President Biden, declaring the coronavirus a ‘crisis at every level’ on Wednesday set ambitious goals to end the pandemic and urged world leaders, drug companies, philanthropic organizations and groups to nonprofit to adopt a goal of vaccinating 70% of the world by next year.

But the path mapped out by Mr. Biden, at a virtual summit on Covid-19 that he convened on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, can be difficult to achieve. And pressure is mounting on the president to rely more on American pharmaceutical manufacturers, who resist sharing their Covid-19 technology with poorer countries.

The one-day meeting, the largest gathering of heads of state to fight the pandemic, reflected Mr. Biden’s determination to re-establish the United States as a leader in global health after President Donald J. Trump has severed ties with the World Health Organization. last year, at the start of the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Biden announced a series of actions, including purchasing an additional 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccine at a non-profit price to donate overseas and $ 370 million to administer the injections. Vice President Kamala Harris has announced that the United States will donate $ 250 million to a new global fund that aims to raise $ 10 billion to prevent future pandemics.

“We are not going to solve this crisis with half measures or medium ambitions. We have to think big, ”the president said in a televised address. “And we have to do our part: governments, the private sector, civil society leaders, philanthropists. “

Yet Mr Biden’s summit meeting sparked some resentment towards the United States from those who criticized the administration for hoarding vaccines and not doing enough to help developing countries. to make their own. Others said the administration was claiming credit for a plan that already existed.

“It’s not really new, but the financial power of what they’re putting on the table is new of course,” said Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, French virologist and former senior WHO official, in a statement. interview. She noted that the organization had already set a goal of immunizing 70 percent of people in low- and middle-income countries by next September.

“The United States wants to engage,” she added, “but it still doesn’t know exactly how to engage in the new world that has developed during their absence.”

Mr Biden is also being criticized for offering booster doses to fully vaccinated Americans when millions of people around the world, including health workers, have yet to receive a first dose. In his address to the United Nations on Wednesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya said such inequalities hamper efforts to rebuild the global economy, which requires confidence and investment.

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“The surest way to build that trust is to make vaccines available to the world in a fair and accessible way,” Kenyatta said. “Unfortunately, this is not currently the case. The asymmetry in vaccine supply reflects a multilateral system in urgent need of repair.”

In his opening remarks, Mr Biden cited two particularly urgent challenges: vaccinating the world against Covid-19 and solving a global oxygen shortage, which is causing unnecessary deaths among Covid-19 patients who could survive if oxygen was not available.

But as soon as the president finished speaking and the television cameras were turned off, the director general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called on countries and companies to share the doses immediately, intellectual property and technical know-how for manufacturing. vaccines, according to a person who attended the summit and took notes of the remarks.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was also singled out, the person said. Mr Ramaphosa called vaccine inequalities “unjust and immoral” and reiterated his proposal that developing countries should be able to manufacture their own doses.

More than 4.7 million people worldwide, and more than 678,000 in the United States, have died from Covid-19 – a “global tragedy,” Mr Biden said. While three-quarters of Americans have received at least one vaccine against the coronavirus, less than 10% of the population in poor countries – and less than 4% of the African population – have been fully immunized.

Globally, 79 percent of injections that have been given were in high- and upper-middle-income countries, according to the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project. Covax, the WHO-backed international immunization initiative, is behind schedule in delivering vaccines to low- and middle-income countries that need it most.

At a briefing hosted by Physicians for Human Rights this week, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist, called on nations to work together to distribute vaccines in a coordinated and equitable manner. She also urged countries to share their excess supplies.

“A country-by-country approach, a nationalist approach, will not get us out of this pandemic,” she said. “And that’s where we are today.”

Experts estimate that 11 billion doses are needed to achieve widespread global immunity. Before Wednesday, the United States had pledged to donate more than 600 million doses. The additional $ 500 million pledged by Mr Biden brings the total US commitment to 1.1 billion doses, more than any other country.

“In other words, for every hit that we administered to pay in America, we have now committed to do three hits to the rest of the world,” Mr. Biden said.

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But campaigners, global health experts and world leaders say the doses given won’t be enough. They call on the Biden administration to do more to scale up global vaccine manufacturing, especially in Africa, where the need is greatest.

“The Covid-19 pandemic reminds us of the importance of diversifying production centers around the world,” said Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who has suffered one of the largest increases in cases, in his speech at the general Assembly. “We know no one is safe until everyone is safe.”

The landscape for getting shots has become increasingly difficult since the inception of Covax in April 2020. Some Asian countries have imposed tariffs and other trade restrictions on Covid-19 vaccines, slowing their delivery. India, home to the world’s largest vaccine maker, has banned exports of coronavirus vaccines since April, although officials say they will resume next month.

In his opening remarks, Biden called on other rich countries to meet their donation commitments. He also appeared to be pulling a veiled blow on China, which did not attend the summit, and has mostly sold – rather than given – its vaccine to other countries.

“We should unite in the world on a few principles: that we pledge to give, not to sell – to give, not to sell – doses to low-income and low-income countries, and that donations are not with no political conditions, ”the president said. noted.

He also announced a vaccine partnership with the European Union and said the United States was working to increase overseas production through a partnership with India, Japan and Australia which was ” on track to produce at least 1 billion doses of vaccine in India to boost global supply by the end of 2022.

The doses that the Biden administration gives, however, flow slowly. So far 157 million have been shipped overseas. Dr Peter J. Hotez, an infectious disease expert at Texas Children’s Hospital who helped develop an India-made coronavirus vaccine, said the president should have exposed “a frank articulation of the magnitude” of the shortage.

“We don’t need it by 2023,” Dr Hotez said. “We need it now, over the next six to eight months. “

Rick gladstone contributed to New York reporting.