Washington: The United States will share technologies used to make COVID-19 vaccines through the World Health Organization and is working to expand rapid testing and antiviral treatments for hard-to-reach populations, President Joe Biden said on Thursday.
Speaking at the second global COVID-19 summit, Biden called on Congress to provide additional funds so that the US may contribute more to the global pandemic response.
“We are making available health technologies that are owned by the United States government, including stabilised spike protein that is used in many COVID-19 vaccines,” Biden said in his opening speech.
The summit, jointly hosted by the United States, Belize, Germany, Indonesia and Senegal, is being held virtually on Thursday for countries to discuss efforts to end the pandemic and prepare for future health threats.
It is set to build on efforts and commitments made at the first global summit in September, including getting more people vaccinated, sending tests and treatments to highest-risk populations, expanding protections to health-care workers, and generating financing for pandemic preparedness.
It has gathered more than $3 billion in new funding to fight the pandemic, the White House said, including over $2 billion for immediate response and $962 million in commitments to the World Bank pandemic preparedness fund.
The contributions include the United States contributing an additional $200 million to a global health fund for future pandemic preparedness at the World Bank, bringing its total contribution to $450 million, it said.
The European Union said it was providing 300 million euros for vaccination support, and $450 million for the preparedness fund. NGOs, philanthropies, and the private sector made over $700 million in new commitments.
Several generic drugmakers that will produce versions of Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid have agreed to sell the medicine in low- and middle-income countries for $25 a course or less, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) said on Thursday.
At least 14 other countries as well as the WHO, European Commission, private-sector companies like Google, and non-governmental organizations, are attending the summit.
The United States has crossed the threshold of one million deaths from COVID-19, the White House said on Thursday, as the nation seeks to turn the page on the pandemic despite threats of another surge.
“Today, we mark a tragic milestone,” President Joe Biden said in a statement that acknowledged the “unrelenting” pain of bereaved families, and urged Americans to remain vigilant as cases tick back up.
“One million empty chairs around the dinner table,” Biden said. “Each an irreplaceable loss. Each leaving behind a family, a community, and a nation forever changed.”
Biden’s announcement came as he chaired a global virtual COVID summit, taking place as Europe also passed two million Covid deaths, focused on efforts to bring the pandemic under control worldwide and prepare for future health emergencies.
The US leader came to the summit hobbled by Congress’ failure to approve $22.5 billion in continued emergency Covid funding, including for the international supply of vaccines, and he warned it was “critical” for lawmakers to keep financing testing, vaccines and treatments.The president called on Congress to provide more funding for testing, vaccines and treatments, something lawmakers have been unwilling to deliver so far.
The lack of funding — Biden has requested another $22.5 billion of what he calls critically needed money — is a reflection of faltering resolve at home that jeopardizes the global response to the pandemic.
Eight months after he used the first such summit to announce an ambitious pledge to donate 1.2 billion vaccine doses to the world, the urgency of the US and other nations to respond has waned.
COVID-19 must remain global priority
Momentum on vaccinations and treatments has faded even as more infectious variants rise and billions of people across the globe remain unprotected.
Biden addressed the opening of the virtual summit Thursday morning with prerecorded remarks and made the case that tackling COVID-19 "must remain an international priority.’’ The U.S. is co-hosting the summit along with Germany, Indonesia, Senegal and Belize.
“This summit is an opportunity to renew our efforts to keep our foot on the gas when it comes to getting this pandemic under control and preventing future health crises,’’ Biden said.
The U.S. has shipped nearly 540 million vaccine doses to more than 110 countries and territories, according to the State Department _ by far more than any other donor nation.
After the delivery of more than 1 billion vaccines to the developing world, the problem is no longer that there aren’t enough shots but a lack of logistical support to get doses into arms. According to government data, more than 680 million donated vaccine doses have been left unused in developing countries because they were set to expire soon and couldn’t be administered quickly enough. As of March, 32 poorer countries had used fewer than half of the COVID-19 vaccines they were sen
America recorded its first COVID-19 death, on the West Coast, in early February 2020. By the next month, the virus was ravaging New York and the White House was predicting up to 240,000 deaths nationwide.
But those projections were way off.
Even in New York - the hard-hit early epicenter of America’s Covid crisis - the million death milestone was difficult to comprehend.
“It’s unfathomable,” Diana Berrent, one of the first people in New York state to catch Covid-19, said of the toll that far exceeds epidemiologists’ worst predictions.
Back in spring 2020, New York City hospitals and morgues overflowed, and the sound of ambulance sirens rang down empty streets as then-president Donald Trump responded chaotically in Washington.
Two years on, and life in the Big Apple is largely back to normal as residents attempt to put the collective trauma of the virus that has killed 40,000 New Yorkers behind them.
Broadway stage lights are once again illuminated, yellow taxis clog main avenues and bars in business districts hum with post-work chatter.
“Without a doubt you feel the energy of the people that are on the streets. It’s been a long time coming,” Alfred Cerullo, president of a business improvement group in Midtown Manhattan, told AFP.
New York’s rebound has been aided by its high inoculation numbers - about 88 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, a rate that was boosted by mandates, including for indoor activities like dining.
Jeffrey Bank, owner of Carmine’s restaurant near Times Square, says sales at the Italian eatery are better than they were in 2019, as residents and tourists make up for lost time.
“People have been sitting at home for two years. They want to celebrate and they’re entitled to,” he told AFP.
But the city has a long way to go. Many stores remain empty and only 38 percent of Manhattan workers are in the office on an average weekday, according to Kastle Systems, a security firm that tracks building occupancy.
The Big Apple’s tourism board also doesn’t expect visitor numbers to get back to the 67 million of 2019 people for a few years, and business owners fear another wave of infections.
In recent weeks, the United States has seen an uptick in the number of daily virus cases, largely due to the new Omicron subvariant.
The rise has coincided with the lifting of mask mandates.
“I think we are in a place where psychologically and socially and economically, people are largely done with the pandemic,” said Celine Gounder, an infectious disease expert at New York University.
“(But) the pandemic is not over. So you have a disconnect between what is happening epidemiologically and what’s happening in terms of how people are responding,” she told AFP.
Among the most at-risk are the unvaccinated, lower-income populations, uninsured people and communities of color, she says.
Ideological clashes over curfews and mask and vaccine mandates characterized America’s early pandemic response, as it racked up the world’s highest death toll, with hospitals overwhelmed and morgues failing to keep up with the dead.
Trump was late to back social distancing, repeatedly undermined top scientist Anthony Fauci, peddled unproven medical treatments, and politicized mask-wearing - before eventually being hospitalized with the virus himself.
Trump did pump billions of dollars into vaccine research and by mid-December 2020, the first vaccines were available for health care workers.
But deaths kept soaring amid a slow take-up of shots in conservative areas of the country.
New president Biden and many Democratic governors enforced mandates but Republican-led states like Florida and Texas outright banned them, highlighting America’s patchwork of rules that made forming a unified response to the pandemic difficult.