Biden Marks 1M US COVID Deaths, to Co-Host 2nd Global Summit

By ZEKE MILLER and MARIA CHENG, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden will appeal for a renewed international commitment to attack COVID-19 as he convenes a second virtual pandemic summit, marking 1 million deaths in the United States.

“As a nation, we must not be stunned by such grief,” Biden said in a statement. “To heal, we must remember. We must be vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible.”

The president called on Congress to provide more funding for tests, vaccines and treatments, something lawmakers have been reluctant to deliver so far.

The lack of funding – Biden has demanded an additional $ 22.5 billion of what he calls critically necessary money – is a reflection of shaky determination at home that jeopardizes the global response to the pandemic.

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Eight months after he used the first such summit to announce an ambitious promise to donate 1.2 billion vaccine doses to the world, the urgency of the United States and other nations to respond has subsided.

Momentum on vaccinations and treatments has waned even as more infectious variants increase and billions of people around the world remain unprotected.

The White House said Biden will address the opening of the virtual summit on Thursday morning with pre-recorded comments and will argue that the management of covid-19 “must remain an international priority.” The United States is hosting the summit along with Germany, Indonesia, Senegal and Belize.

The United States has sent nearly 540 million vaccine doses to more than 110 countries and territories, according to the State Department – far more than any other donor nation.

Following the delivery of more than 1 billion vaccines to developing countries, the problem is no longer that there are not enough syringes but a lack of logistical support to obtain doses in weapons. According to government data, more than 680 million donated vaccine doses have been left unused in developing countries as they would soon expire and could not be administered quickly enough. By March, 32 poorer countries had used less than half of the covid-19 vaccines they were sent.

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

“We have tens of millions of untapped doses because countries lack the resources to expand their cooling chains, which are basically the cooling systems; to combat misinformation; and hiring 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 funding to continue to be part of this work around the world.”

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

Congress has waived the price tag for covid-19 relief and has so far refused to take up the package due to political opposition to the impending end of migration restrictions from the pandemic at the US-Mexico border. Even after a consensus on virus funding emerged in March, lawmakers decided to remove global aid funding and focus only on aid to strengthen the United States’ supply of vaccine booster syringes and therapies.

Biden has warned that without Congress action, the United States could lose access to next-generation vaccines and treatments, and that the country will not have enough booster doses or the antiviral drug Paxlovid for later this year. He also sounds the alarm that more variants will emerge if the US and the world do no more to limit the virus globally.

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

The virus has killed more than 995,000 people in the United States and at least 6.2 million people globally, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Demand for covid-19 vaccines has declined in some countries as infections and deaths have declined globally in recent months, especially as the omicron variant has been shown to be less severe than previous versions of the disease. For the first time since its creation, the UN-backed COVAX work has “enough supply to enable countries to meet their national vaccination targets,” according to Gavi vaccine alliance CEO Dr Seth Berkley, who fronts COVAX.

Yet, despite the fact that more than 65% of the world’s population receives at least one dose of covid-19 vaccine, less than 16% of the people in poor countries have been vaccinated. It is highly unlikely that countries will reach the World Health Organization’s target of vaccinating 70% of all people by June.

In countries such as Cameroon, Uganda and Côte d’Ivoire, officials have struggled to get enough refrigerators to carry vaccines, send enough syringes for mass campaigns and get enough medical staff to inject the syringes. Experts also point out that more than half of the healthcare professionals needed to administer the vaccines in poorer countries are either underpaid or not paid at all.

Donating more vaccines, critics say, would miss the point completely.

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

“We can not give countries all these vaccines but no way to use them,” she said, adding that the same infrastructure that had the syringes administered in the United States is now needed elsewhere. “We had to deal with this problem in the United States, so why are we not using that knowledge now to get vaccines into the people who need them most?”

Sharma said that greater investment is needed to counter vaccination activities in developing countries where there are entrenched beliefs about the potential dangers of Western medicines.

“Leaders must agree to pursue a coherent strategy to end the pandemic instead of a fragmented approach that will extend the life of this crisis,” said Gayle Smith, CEO of The ONE Campaign.

GAVI’s Berkley also said that countries are increasingly demanding the more expensive messenger RNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which are not as readily available as the AstraZeneca vaccine, which made up the bulk of COVAX’s supply last year.

The emergence of variants such as delta and omicron has led many countries to switch to mRNA vaccines, which seem to provide more protection and are more in demand globally than traditionally manufactured vaccines such as AstraZeneca, Novavax or those manufactured by China and Russia.

Cheng reported from London.

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