Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP via Getty Images
In light of criticism of its plan to give Americans the third dose of COVID-19 vaccines while millions in the world’s poorest countries are still waiting for a first shot, the White House is planning a virtual summit next week to highlight efforts Speed up global vaccinations.
Wednesday’s meeting is timed so that world leaders are in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, an event that has itself been scaled back as officials try to contain the chances of the coronavirus spreading.
Global health advocates had been pushing for weeks for the Biden government to take greater leadership in the spread of vaccines around the world.
Administration officials do not say exactly who is expected on Wednesday, but White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement the aim is to “bring civil society, NGOs, philanthropists and industry together with world leaders”.
The World Health Organization and other groups have urged the United States to hold back with sweeping booster vaccination plans, arguing that poorer countries need the vaccines more. The Biden administration has pushed back criticism, arguing that the US has enough doses to vaccinate Americans while sharing more vaccines worldwide than any other nation.
Low-income countries received less than 1% of all doses administered worldwide to date in this pandemic.
The White House has not confirmed reports that President Biden will aim to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population by September 2022, when heads of state and government meet for the UN General Assembly next year.
“We are in a race against time,” said Carolyn Reynolds of the Pandemic Action Network, one of many proponents who urged the government to accelerate the pace of vaccine distribution around the world. “We urge all world leaders to commit to the summit goals of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population in less than 12 months, saving lives now and ensuring the world is prepared for the next pandemic.”
The summit will also look at oxygen starvation for COVID patients and personal protective equipment for health workers. The announcement also speaks of accountability: setting goals, tracking progress, and actually making sure that goals are achieved.
In this type of accountability, Dr. Krishna Udayakumar urged from Duke University. There have been many promises over the pandemic, but some countries rolled back or failed to meet vaccine sharing goals after the Delta variant changed the way they calculate their domestic needs.
“This is a point we have pushed – lack of leadership and accountability is the central challenge to the global response,” said Udayakumar of the Duke Global Health Institute.
To date, the United States has distributed 140 million doses of vaccine to about 100 countries. The Biden government has pledged to distribute 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the coming months and has hinted that an even bigger promise may come.
White House COVID Response Coordinator Jeff Zients did not respond directly when asked by a reporter during a briefing Friday whether an additional large vaccine deal would be announced in connection with the summit.
“It is of vital importance that this summit is not just a flash in the pan, but the beginning of a comprehensive, coordinated effort to combat this pandemic worldwide,” said Jenny Ottenhoff from One Campaign. “That includes clear, time-bound commitments to get vaccines to Africa and low-income countries everywhere. Everyone is hooked to deliver.”