Biden marks ‘tragic mark’ for US COVID at world summit

President Joe Biden appealed to world leaders at the COVID-19 summit Thursday to revitalize a belated international commitment to attacking the virus as he led the United States in celebrating the “tragic milestone” of the deaths of one million people in America. He ordered flags to be lowered to half of the staff and warned against inaction around the world.

“This pandemic is not over yet,” Biden declared at the Second Global Epidemic Summit. He spoke solemnly of the unimaginable American losses: “a million empty chairs around the family dinner table.”

The coronavirus has killed more than 999,000 people in the United States and at least 6.2 million people globally since it emerged in late 2019, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The other counts, including the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, put the death toll at 1 million.

“Today, we celebrate a tragic milestone here in the United States, the one million deaths from COVID,” he said.

The President called on Congress to urgently submit Billions of dollars more For testing, vaccines and treatments, something lawmakers haven’t wanted to introduce yet.

This funding shortfall — Biden has requested an additional $22.5 billion in what he calls much-needed funds — is a reflection of the United States’ faltering design that threatens the global response to the pandemic, he says.

Eight months after he used his first COVID Summit to announce An ambitious pledge to donate 1.2 billion doses of vaccine For the world, the urgency of the United States and other nations to respond has diminished.

Momentum on vaccines and treatments has faded even as more infectious variants rise and billions of people around the world remain unprotected.

Biden addressed the opening of the virtual summit Thursday morning with recorded remarks and noted that tackling COVID-19 “must remain an international priority.” The summit is co-hosted by the United States, along with Germany, Indonesia, Senegal and Belize.

“This summit is an opportunity to renew our efforts to keep our footing on the gas when it comes to bringing this pandemic under control and preventing future health crises,” Biden said.

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The United States has shipped nearly 540 million doses of vaccine to more than 110 countries and territories, according to the State Department — far more than any other donor country.

Leaders announced $3 billion in new commitments to fight the virus, along with a slew of new programs aimed at boosting access to vaccines and treatments worldwide. But that was a much more modest result than at last year’s meeting.

After more than a billion vaccines have been delivered to the developing world, the problem is no longer a shortage of injections, but the logistical support of getting doses in the weapon. According to government data, more than 680 million doses of donated vaccines were left unused in developing countries because they were about to expire and could not be administered fast enough. As of March, 32 poorer countries had used less than half of the COVID-19 vaccines sent to them.

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

“We have tens of millions of unclaimed doses because countries lack the resources to build their own cold chains, which are basically cooling systems, to fight misinformation and employment vaccinatorsWhite House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this week. She added that the summit “will be an opportunity to raise the fact that we need additional funding to continue to be a part of this effort 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 declined to pay for COVID-19 relief and has so far refused to accept the package due to political opposition to the imminent end of pandemic-era immigration restrictions on the US-Mexico border. Even after consensus on funding for the virus briefly emerged in March, lawmakers decided to scrap global aid funding and focus only on supporting US supplies of booster vaccines and treatments.

Biden warned that without Congress’ action, the United States could lose access to the next generation of vaccines and treatments, and that the nation would not have enough booster doses or The antiviral drug baxlovid later this year. It also raises the alarm that more variables will emerge if the United States and the world do not do more to contain the virus globally.

“To beat the epidemic here, we need to beat it everywhere,” Biden said last September during the first global summit.

Demand for COVID-19 vaccines has fallen in some countries as infections and deaths globally have declined in recent months, particularly as the omicron variant has proven less severe than previous versions of the disease. For the first time since its inception, the UN-backed COVAX effort has “sufficient supplies to enable countries to achieve their national vaccination targets,” according to Dr. Seth Berkeley, CEO of the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, which is facing COVAX.

However, although more than 65% of the world’s population receives at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, less than 16% of people in poor countries have been immunized. It is highly unlikely that countries will meet the WHO’s goal of vaccinating 70% of all people by June.

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

Critics say donating more vaccines will miss the point.

Ritu Sharma, vice president at the charity CARE, which has helped vaccinate people in more than 30 countries, including India, South Sudan and Bangladesh, said.

“We can’t give countries all of these vaccines but there’s no way to use them,” she said, adding that the same infrastructure that got administered vaccines in the United States is now needed elsewhere. “We had to tackle this problem in the United States, so why not use this knowledge now to get vaccines to the people who need them most?”

Sharma said more investment is needed to address vaccine hesitancy in developing countries where there are deeply held beliefs about the potential dangers of Western-made medicines.

Gavi’s Berkeley also said countries are increasingly requiring higher-priced mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, which are not as readily available as the AstraZeneca vaccine, which made up the bulk of COVAX’s supply last year.

Variants such as Delta and Omicron have led many countries to switch to mRNA vaccines, which appear to offer more protection and are in greater global demand than conventionally made vaccines such as those in China and Russia.


Cheng reported from London. Associated Press writer Chris Megerian contributed.