USA

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the Virtual COVID-19 Summit

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.

We meet at a challenging time.  Eighteen months since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, we are not where we need to be.  The virus continues to overpower and outmaneuver us.  In many places, it’s spreading at its fastest rate yet, and only a small number of countries are able to vaccinate enough people.

The effects can be measured in the more than four and a half million people worldwide whose lives have been taken by this pandemic, and we join their loved ones in mourning their loss. 

The consequences, we know, can also be measured in so many secondary effects: disruptions felt across every major sector of the global economy, from agriculture to manufacturing to tourism; growing inequity; rising hunger; postponed elections. 

So today’s summit is about more than saying we will do better.  It’s about making the commitments and charting a path to actually end this pandemic once and for all.

And here’s what we believe this will require.

First, we must vaccinate billions more people, and quickly, fully vaccinating at least 70 percent of the population, in every country, in every major category, by 2022. 

Second, we have to take bold steps right now to save lives, from solving the oxygen crisis to closing the massive gaps in testing capacity to ensuring that front-line health workers everywhere have PPE. 

And third, we have to build back better when it comes to global health security, in particular, by establishing the lasting leadership and sustained financing to fight this pandemic and prevent the next one. 

In each of these areas, we have to agree to ambitious, time-bound targets and openly track our progress toward meeting them so that we, and everyone who is a part of this effort, can hold ourselves accountable.

The new commitments that President Biden announced today, including purchasing an additional half a billion doses of Pfizer vaccine, which brings our total commitment to more than 1.1 billion doses, shows that the United States will continue to engage and continue to lead.

So does our commitment to work with global vaccine manufacturers to expand global and regional manufacturing for mNRA[1], viral vector, and protein subunit COVID-19 vaccines; and our pledge to enhance transparency for the data on production and projections for dose manufacturing.  We’re also ramping up our efforts to get more shots into arms, to reduce morbidity and mortality from the virus, to expand access to oxygen, testing, and more.  All of this has to be part of the agenda.

These and other commitments build on ambitious steps that we’ve taken to date, including pledging billions to support Gavi and the Global Fund, providing hundreds of millions in aid to countries and communities through USAID and the CDC, Treasury Secretary Yellen’s successful call to action on Special Drawing Rights, our support for temporary TRIPS waiver. 

Simply put, we will use every tool we have to stop the spread of the virus. 

And that includes working side-by-side with our partners to deliver more multilateral commitments at the upcoming G20 meeting, which Prime Minister Draghi, who joins us today, will lead.

I plan to personally convene foreign ministers before the end of the year to make sure that we’re following up on commitments made at this summit, as well as the G20.  And President Biden will convene heads of state on this issue in the first quarter of 2022.  We have to have the sustained engagement, continuing to hold ourselves accountable for real progress. 

In the meantime, we will lead a Multilateral Leaders’ Task Force, made up from experts from inside and outside the government, to openly and also rigorously evaluate our progress in the lead-up to G20, and at regular intervals after that meeting. 

Governments have a major, central role to play.  But all of those represented here today – multilateral organizations, international financial institutions, the private sector, philanthropy, community-based organizations, and others – will need to do their part. 

If – if we work together with the unity and urgency required at this moment, we can end the pandemic.  I am convinced we can do this, in no small part because of the extraordinary people around the world who are working at this every single day, caring for the sick and their families, working to beat back this deadly virus.

You’ll hear shortly from a couple of them – from Zipporah Iregi.  She and her fellow nurses at the Kitui County regional – Referral Hospital, excuse me, in Kenya kept showing up to care for COVID patients even when they lacked PPE; even when they were not able to get vaccinated; even when they were not paid for their work; and even when they lost loved ones and colleagues to the virus.  You are the true heroes of this global effort, and I think so many of us are in awe of what you’ve done, day in, day out to care for people, to save people, and to just keep doing it no matter the conditions. 

People like Antonia Richards Stewart, a nurse in Jamaica.  Additional training and equipment provided by USAID helped Antonia and her colleagues at the Kingston Public Hospital save lives there as well.  But Antonia says that of everything she learned during the pandemic, the most important lesson in many ways has been the most basic, and I quote: “What is critical to winning [the] fight against COVID-19 is us, the people.”  And ultimately, that’s always what it comes down to. 

So if we take one message from the summit, that’s it.  It comes down to us – what we do in this critical moment in the weeks ahead, in the months ahead.  So let’s bring the urgency, let’s bring the rigor, required to end the crisis and also prevent the next one.  That really is our mission.  It’s one we’re all in together.  And I’m grateful to everyone for participating this afternoon.

Gayle Smith, back to you.  And Prime Minister Draghi, so good to have you with us.  Thank you.

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