Biden co-hosts 2nd COVID summit as world resolve falters

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will call for renewed international commitment to attacking COVID-19 when he convenes the second global COVID-19 summit at a time when faltering resolve at home threatens that global response.

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 of the US and other nations’ response has eased.

The momentum in vaccines and treatments has slowed, even as new, more contagious variants are emerging, leaving billions of people around the world unprotected. Congress has refused to accede to Biden’s request for an additional $22.5 billion in what he calls much-needed aid.

The White House said Biden will address the opening of Thursday morning’s virtual summit with pre-recorded remarks, arguing that fighting COVID-19 “must remain an international priority.” The US is co-hosting the summit with Germany, Indonesia, Senegal and Belize.


The U.S. has shipped nearly 540 million vaccine doses to more than 110 countries and territories, according to the State Department — far more than any other donor nation.

Having shipped more than 1 billion vaccines to developing countries, the problem is no longer a lack of vaccines, but a lack of logistical support to get doses up their sleeves. According to the government, more than 680 million donated doses of vaccines in developing countries went unused because they were about to expire and could not be administered quickly enough. By March, 32 poorer countries had used less than half of the COVID-19 vaccines sent to them.

U.S. aid to promote and facilitate immunizations overseas dried up earlier this year, and Biden has requested about $5 billion for the rest of the year for the effort.

“We have tens of millions of unclaimed cans because countries lack the resources to expand their cold chains, which are basically the refrigeration systems; combat disinformation; and 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 resources to continue being part of this effort around the world.”


“We will continue to fight for more money here,” said Psaki. “But we will continue to urge other countries to do more to help the world make progress as well.”

Congress has balked at the price of the COVID-19 aid and has so far refused to accept the package because of political opposition to the imminent end of pandemic-era migration restrictions at the US-Mexico border. Even after a brief consensus on virus funding emerged in March, lawmakers decided to scrap global aid funding and focus aid solely on supporting U.S. supplies of vaccine boosters and therapeutics.

Biden has warned that without congressional intervention, the US could lose access to the next generation of vaccines and treatments and that the nation will run out of booster doses or the antiviral drug Paxlovid later this year. He also sounds the alarm that more variants will emerge if the US and the world don’t do more to contain the virus globally.


“To defeat the pandemic here, we must defeat it everywhere,” Biden said last September during the first global summit.

The virus has killed more than 995,000 people in the United States and at least 6.2 million worldwide, according to 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 declined around the world in recent months, particularly as the Omicron variant has proven less severe than previous versions of the disease. according to dr Seth Berkley, CEO of the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, which leads COVAX, says the United Nations-backed COVAX effort has “sufficient stocks to allow countries to meet their national immunization targets” for the first time since its inception.

Although more than 65% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, fewer than 16% of people in poor countries have been vaccinated. It is highly unlikely that countries will meet the World Health Organization’s target of vaccinating 70% of all people by June.


In countries like Cameroon, Uganda and Ivory Coast, officials have struggled to get enough refrigerators to ship vaccines, send enough syringes for mass campaigns, and get enough health workers to inject the syringes. Experts also point out that more than half of the health workers needed to administer the vaccines in poorer countries are either underpaid or not paid at all.

Critics say donating more vaccines totally misses the point.

“It’s like donating a couple of fire trucks to countries that are burning but have no water,” said Ritu Sharma, vice president of charity CARE, which has helped vaccinate people in more than 30 countries, including India, South Sudan and Bangladesh.

“We can’t give countries all these vaccines, but not a way to use them,” she said, adding that the same infrastructure that was used to deliver the vaccinations in the US is now needed elsewhere. “We had to address this issue in the US, so why not use that knowledge now to get vaccines to the people who need them most?”


Sharma said greater investment is needed to address vaccine hesitancy in developing countries, where there are deep-rooted beliefs about the potential dangers of Western-made medicines.

“Leaders must unite to pursue a coherent strategy to end the pandemic, rather than a fragmented approach that will prolong the lifespan of this crisis,” said Gayle Smith, CEO of The ONE Campaign.

GAVI’s Berkley also said countries are increasingly asking for Pfizer’s and Moderna’s more expensive messenger RNA vaccines, which aren’t as readily available as AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which made up the bulk of COVAX’s offering last year.

The emergence of variants like Delta and Omicron has prompted many countries to switch to mRNA vaccines, which seem to offer more protection and are in greater demand worldwide than traditionally manufactured vaccines like AstraZeneca, Novavax or those of China and Russia.


Cheng reported from London.

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Justin Scacco

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