THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C. (Virtual)
MODERATOR: So good afternoon and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center’s briefing on the Second Global COVID-19 Summit. Our briefers today will provide a readout of the summit. This briefing is on the record, and a transcript will be provided later today.
With that, I am pleased to introduce our briefers. First, we have Dr. Ashish Jha. He is the White House COVID-19 response coordinator. We also have Raj Panjabi. He is the special assistant to the President and senior director for global health security and biodefense with the National Security Council. Dr. Jha and Senior Director Panjabi will give opening remarks, and then we will open for questions. And with that, over to you, Dr. Jha.
MR JHA: Well, thank you, Doris. And good afternoon, everybody, and thank you for having me here. We are more than two years into this pandemic, and we are, I believe, at an important inflection point. We’ve lost nearly 15 million people around the world to this pandemic, 6 million officially recorded, 9 million in excess deaths that have not been captured by our surveillance systems. More than 10 million children have lost a primary caregiver. The toll of this pandemic has been staggering.
While that is all true, I do believe we are in a very different place two years in because of what science has delivered for us, which is incredibly effective and safe vaccines that can have a profound impact on reducing morbidity and mortality; new therapies that are coming online that can really alter the course of this disease; and a lot of knowledge about how this virus spreads and how to contain it.
From the start of this administration in January 2021, the President has been very clear to all of us that he believes that this pandemic is not over anywhere until it is over everywhere. And therefore, it is incredibly important that America engage deeply with the world. That has meant for this administration providing funding for COVAX. It has meant donating hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines to the global effort, more than 500 million vaccine doses to 115 countries, and also making commitments to get those vaccine doses into people’s arms. And that has meant advertising campaigns that have built up vaccine confidence, distribution programs supporting actual vaccination efforts. All of that I think has been extraordinary and deeply impactful.
But of course, we are not done. We are not done with this pandemic, and our government’s efforts are by no means done. And one of the major reasons we have called on Congress to fund and support the next phase of this effort is that we know that we need to continue vaccinating people. And that while we have managed to close the supply gap and make vaccines widely available, the next challenge is to make sure that those vaccines continue to get into people’s arms. There continues to be a large need for more people around the world to get vaccinated. Countries know that. But the problem is that countries – many countries – need help in getting large-scale vaccination programs going, which are inherently – require work and resources. And America stands ready and America stands committed to doing that. But we need our Congress to step up and support that kind of work.
Let me just finish off by saying we know that the work of this pandemic continues and that while many people are talking about preventing future pandemics – which is, of course, essential – one of the best ways of preparing for future pandemics is by more effectively fighting the current one. There are deep lessons to be learned with the COVID-19 pandemic, important lessons about how we identify, prevent, respond to new variants, and that we really are all in this together. And as the pandemic continues, I think you will find an ongoing commitment from the United States in global leadership, being a strong partner to others, and knowing that we will ultimately bring this pandemic to a close by working together effectively.
So let me stop with that, and turn it over to my colleague, Dr. Raj Panjabi. Raj, over to you.
MR PANJABI: Dr. Jha, thank you, and I’m joined here by my colleague, Dr. Beth Cameron, who’s our senior advisor for global health security and biodefense, and special assistant to the president here at the National Security Council; really led the efforts on this summit across the interagency with our colleagues across the U.S. Government and partners around the world, including our co-host.
Our mission is to coordinate across the government to prevent, detect, and respond to pandemic and infectious disease threats that face America and the world. And in that regard, we’ve been working closely with Ashish and the White House COVID Response Team to support especially on the global response and work with partners around the world.
Ashish is correct; the United States prior to coming into this summit had already delivered over 500 million doses of vaccines to over a hundred countries as part of the 1.2 billion dose commitment by President Biden at the last summit in September 2021. The U.S. has also led the world in COVID-19 funding, committing over $19 billion in funding to date in vaccinations, tests, treatments, oxygen, and humanitarian assistance. We’ve also worked with countries to help them manufacture vaccines locally and in their own region.
Building on that, today the United States co-hosted and was proud to co-host the Global COVID-19 Summit with Belize as CARICOM chair, with Germany as the G7 presidency, with Indonesia as the G20 presidency, and Senegal as the Africa Union chair.
We had three goals coming into this summit, and let me give you a play-by-play in terms of what the goals were and what the outcomes were with each of those goals.
The first goal was to prevent complacency. And we heard clearly from leaders around the world, some from your own countries, making it very clear: While we’ve made progress, the pandemic is not over. There’s still thousands of deaths every day around the world, and this is not a time to back down from this fight, but a time to double down on this fight.
We also heard commitments in this regard. Overall, the summit raised over $3 billion – $3.2 billion precisely – in new commitments, these had not previously been announced, towards the global fight against COVID-19. Two and a half billion dollars roughly is to ensure that vaccines turn into vaccinations by supporting health workers and vaccination campaigns like the ones that Dr. Jha was describing. There was also support to ensure that treatment gets out to countries as well, and that they have access – that countries around the world have access to lifesaving treatment for COVID-19.
And about over $700 million was to establish a new fund at the World Bank that is focused on pandemic preparedness and global health security – essentially, to help stop the next variant and the next pandemic, and to stop it at its source.
The second goal was to prevent deaths. And here we’ve seen some progress globally. Since the last summit, vaccination rates around the world have nearly doubled, from 33 to 60 percent. In lower-middle-income countries, they’ve nearly quadrupled, from 13 percent to about 52 percent. The lowest income countries are still struggling, as many of you know, with getting – not vaccines anymore because supply is sufficient at this time, but ensuring that that supply turns into delivery, that vaccines go from tarmacs into arms. And that requires a focus on health workers, vaccinators, vaccination sites, as well as support for simple, very basic things like fuel for vehicles to move health workers into rural areas or refrigerators to store vaccines in clinics.
There were commitments in this regard as well. Several countries made commitments in the hundreds of millions of dollars to support last-mile delivery, as it’s termed. The United States also committed, beyond vaccinations, to provide access to the technology that’s used for developing mRNA vaccines by donating the spike protein knowledge and technology through the WHO-sponsored Technology Access Pool. That means simply that countries will have access to this technology so that they can be more able to produce that type of mRNA vaccine in their own countries and in their own regions.
The United States also committed to a new effort on treatments. We had two major commitments in this regard. One was the United States committing to pilot test and treatment programs in several new countries. We are teaming up with the Global Fund and Unitaid to ensure that treatments are procured.
We also had a phenomenal commitment from the private sector, philanthropy, and nonprofits. The Clinton Health Access Initiative has negotiated a deal with several generic manufacturers around the world, generic manufacturers of oral antiviral medications for COVID-19. And essentially what that does is create a price agreement that allows the price for these drugs to be at $25 or less per treatment course, and with the capacity in these countries – in these companies to produce 4.5 million treatment courses per year. So that is a significant historic effort that will accelerate the timeline and accelerate the access to treatment around the world.
The third goal – and I’ll end here – was to prevent future variants and future pandemics. And here, another historic commitment was made, as I mentioned earlier. Over $700 million was committed – by the European Commission, Germany, the United States, and philanthropies like the Welcome Trust – towards a new fund for global health security and pandemic preparedness at the World Bank that will help detect new variants at their source and ensure that medical countermeasures and public health measures as well as health workers, clinics, and hospitals are supported that continue this fight, both for the next variant and future pandemics.
I do want to end by saying the fight’s not over. While over $3 billion – $3.2 billion – was pledged in new commitments, the gap globally is over $15 billion. This is why I want to underscore Dr. Jha’s earlier point that we are calling on Congress, our leadership from the Vice President to the President did call on Congress to make good on its – on the request we’ve put forward for $22.5 billion, $5 million of which would go to the global COVID response. Without that funding, we will find ourselves lagging behind in the global fight. That will simply mean quite clearly that people will not get vaccinated, more will continue to die, that we will have less of a chance of stopping variants emerging from around the world from affecting not only the United States but other countries as well.
So we have to have that financing in place to be able to finish this fight and turn COVID-19 from an acute crisis into a manageable respiratory disease.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. We will now go to the question-and-answer session. In order to ask a question, please click on the raised hand icon at the bottom of the screen. And I see we already have a question from Pearl Matibe with Power 98.7 FM South Africa. Go ahead, Pearl.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Doris, for giving me this opportunity. I’m really (inaudible) today. And thank you to our speakers. I’m really also glad that you have made yourselves available to talk to journalists from Africa or who write for African audiences. I think it is super, super important.
So I hear everything that you said, and I just want to frame my question here because with everything that you’ve said, it raises some key questions about where we left off or where the Biden administration left off after the first COVID summit, and after briefings we had on giving us updates as to what work was being coordinated and was being done, specifically in my case for Africa, for sub-Saharan Africa.
Now, at the time, the State Department had a coordinator. So after Gayle Smith left, Mary Beth Goodman was supposed to be acting. My biggest and initial question would be where the Biden administration left us as journalists in informing us and keeping us up to date. There is a huge gap in between what you’re telling us today and where you left it off the last time we were briefed.
So if Ms. Goodman was supposed to be the chief coordinator, reporting to Congress – and yes, I hear that you’re calling on Congress – what has she – what has been done in terms of getting effective coordination. If nothing has been done, why then is there now the coordination coming out of the White House? Why has that shift been made? What does Congress say about it? If you’re calling on Congress, I’m surprised, because in the hearings that were reported to Congress on the progress of the Global COVID-19 Summit – particularly to places like Africa, who were experiencing multiple concurrent crises – Congress was actually calling on the Biden administration to have a coherent plan. And at the time, there wasn’t a coherent plan.
And even though the U.S. is still the biggest donator of the vaccines – and we’ve been covering this very, very, very closely – the population for sub-Saharan Africa is about 1.14 billion people. In South Africa, the Biden administration did great work in helping support South Africa, in setting up the Aspen Pharmacare. Today, World – WHO and Gavi are refusing to purchase from Aspen Pharmacare. I’d like to find out what’s happened to all these threads that you – that the Biden administration has not completed, threading them for me so that we understand exactly where we’re taking off. I see all these commitments from these countries, but a lot of it somehow doesn’t seem to make any sense to me. How on earth are they going to actually pull off these commitments?
So I am really struggling with understanding how this plan is going to succeed given the realities of the ground in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, all of these countries. I’m really struggling with this. So until and unless we get some – like a real coherent plan and we get really kept up to date, calling on journalists every now and again and leaving us with huge (inaudible) is just not going to cut it. Thanks.
MR PANJABI: Pearl, thank you for your question, and I recognize in it some frustration about being informed, which I appreciate your sharing. Let me just lay out what has been done up until this summit. There’s the Acting Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response Mary Beth Goodman has led with Secretary Blinken, an effort – six lines of effort around the Global Action Plan, many of which are reflected in the commitments today and informed the three goals that I mentioned.
Actually, South Africa has been a key part of that effort. Today, we were thrilled to have President Ramaphosa there as well. Coordinated closely, as you mentioned, on not only delivering vaccines but also supporting vaccinations. South Africa has had some of the better results. And though there’s still more room to go, of course, as you have more cases rising, and that was mentioned today, there’s also work being done with Aspen and the J&J-supported facility in South Africa to produce more vaccines.
There’s also work through the Global VAX initiative, which was launched after the last summit, which really focuses on trying to help not only deliver vaccines, but help countries hire vaccinators and support vaccination sites so that we’re getting more and more people vaccinated. And South Africa’s really been leading on that.
Let me see if Beth has anything more to add on this regard.
MS CAMERON: No, I would just say —
QUESTION: Just as a quick follow-up, I really, really do appreciate the – if it wasn’t for the United States a lot of this work would not have been done. But also maybe if you can add, if you were to take a two-dose regimen, how long is it going to take to get Africa to where it needs to be? Thanks.
MS CAMERON: Yeah, I think, Pearl – just to hit that last point, I think one of the – as you well know, one of the big challenges is that country by country and community by community, we are – need to have a long-term focused effort on vaccinations for especially those at highest risk, and one of the big challenges, now that we do have supply coming online – there are two, and you raised both of them.
One is making sure we have predictable supply and that it’s regionally available for this pandemic and for the next, and that we find ways to do that cohesively in ways that support regions and countries, including Africa – and President Ramaphosa was very eloquent on this point today during the summit.
And then the second, of course, is understanding what all the barriers are and that it’s not one size fits all. And what that means gets back to the point about why we need to continue – the United States and other countries – to be calling on our congresses and our parliaments to have more funding – is because this takes a long-term, focused effort to be able to overcome barriers community by community to get vaccines to people. It’s overcoming delivery barriers, it’s overcoming dis- and misinformation, it’s overcoming hesitancy, and it’s also just overcoming divides between different types of communities around the world. And so we have a lot of work to do, but it needs to be a sustained fight.
MR PANJABI: And I hope you’ll appreciate – and Doris, we’re happy to stay on a little longer. Looked like – I know Dr. Jha may have to – so we can answer the other questions. But what also – Africa CDC participated today, as they have throughout, and they’re continent-wide – to your question about how we’ll get Africa from where it is today, with several countries under – well under-vaccinated, but the Africa CDC and the African Union have, as you know, a continent-wide strategy that essentially all of the efforts today that are Africa-related are trying to support and are actually working from that drumbeat.
We hope you’ll also appreciate that the commitments that were – everything was livestreamed today, public, and everything that – all the commitments that were made, down to the smallest nonprofit organization, were published online. And we welcome you as civil society and journalism and journalists – I used to be one – looking at that and helping hold accountable the actors who’ve committed. I think that’s an essential part of the work that has to happen. Thank you, Pearl.
Back to you, Doris.
MODERATOR: Thank you. So our next question goes to Rafael Jacinto from Brazil.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for this briefing. I have two questions. The first one is how do you see the risks of new waves of high – on cases, on deaths by COVID in the next month?
And my second question is if you debate some strategy to try to convince people to get – to get vaccines, to convince the people that does not want to take a vaccine to take a vaccine. So thank you.
MR PANJABI: Thanks, Rafael. Let me answer the first question. Where we are in the pandemic globally is – I’m an epidemiologist; I like to look at the data. I’m a physician as well so I like to think about patients. And in January 2021, just as vaccinations, vaccines were coming online, the world was experiencing almost 15,000 deaths daily on average in January 2021. Today that number is right around 2,000 deaths on average per day. So the trend line is actually better than where we were then. Now, that is in no way – while we feel – it’s not sufficient, I should say. We need to – 2,000 deaths is too many and the millions that have died are already too many. The best way to honor the lives we’ve lost is to protect those at highest risk for further severe disease and death.
If we want to decouple cases, which may continue to rise in various parts of the world, from severe disease and death, then we have to target those – our interventions – to those who may be at highest risk. And the science has actually shown who those are: they’re largely people who are elderly, they are largely people who are immunocompromised, and they are also those who have higher occupational risk and will have higher exposure to the virus, like frontline community health workers, nurses, doctors that – and public health workers.
A lot of countries aren’t yet reporting data for those groups of people publicly, transparently, and that is work that we need to do. And we also can ensure – and this is one thing we called for in the summit – that as we look to complete the first course of the vaccinations and the second course of the vaccinations, we should also be looking at boosters for these populations. And we should be looking to fully vaccinate these groups. If we do that, as we’ve seen in several countries, deaths will start to get decoupled, de-linked from cases, and that will help ensure that the crisis that comes with every wave of a new variant will be less severe, and it will also ensure that we’re – do better at preventing the spread of those viruses or the rise of those – sorry, variants – or the rise of those sub-variants.
You asked a question about persuasion and hesitancy. All I can share, again, is what we’re learning from countries we work in. Our United States Global VAX Initiative, which is led by our U.S. Agency for International Development and our Centers for Disease Control, working with – in partnership with several ministries of health across – largely in Africa but also in parts of the Caribbean – essentially has taught us that countries like Rwanda, for example, who have reached 60 percent coverage in a very short amount of time, or Uganda that was at 12 percent coverage but within six weeks was able to double that, they are using community-based approaches to delivering vaccines.
In other words, they’re getting the vaccine, they’re hiring vaccinators that are not only nurses or doctors, but actually are engaging people from the very neighborhoods in urban areas and communities in rural areas to be part of the vaccine team to bring vaccines to people rather than waiting for people to come to vaccines. That’s worked in Pakistan with their Lady Health Worker Program, it’s worked in Rwanda with their almost 50,000 community health workers, it’s worked in Liberia with their 4,000 community health workers.
The reason that works is because the single biggest Achilles heel, as we call it, in the United States to this virus continuing to persist is a lack of trust. But if we hire, train, and equip the very neighbors, church leaders, religious leaders to be part of the medical team with nurses and doctors, we engage and leverage the trust that’s already been built in a community. And what we’ve learned is that countries like Rwanda, Cambodia, which has a vaccination coverage over 80 percent, and Thailand are using that kind of community-based model.
MS CAMERON: And I’ll just add on to that to say that, Rafael, that was one of the things with the summit that we really wanted to do. We called not only on donors to provide financial commitments; we called on all countries to provide policy commitments to look at what they could do in communities to enable a better understanding of the gaps and to create approaches that then could be more effectively coupled with the assistance that’s out there to actually be more effective, building on some of these models that Raj was mentioning in places like Rwanda that have been quite successful.
So I think that’s an outcome that we really hope to see some of the countries that made strong commitments to enhance vaccination rates, not only how they can follow through on those commitments themselves but how the donor community can more effectively partner with those countries to do those efforts more efficiently.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for one last question. Let’s go to Edward Keenan, Toronto Star.
MR PANJABI: Edward, you’re on mute still.
QUESTION: Yeah, sorry. Can you hear me now?
QUESTION: I apologize for that. It took me a moment here. I just wanted to thank you for doing this and also ask a question about where this sort of global effort – progress was announced today – meets this sort of domestic politics that has been a theme. The President, the Vice President, you, Dr. Jha all mentioned urging Congress to pass significantly more money, $22 billion, of which $5 billion would go to global efforts.
How much of the current U.S. commitments that have been announced and were announced today, previously announced as well, depend on that funding that’s being held up in Congress, if any? Like, in urging Congress, are you urging them to fund these things that you’re talking about today, or is the money already in hand for those things?
MS CAMERON: Thanks, Edward. That’s a really great question, and to clarify, I’ll just say that we have – the United States is the largest donor to the global COVID response and we’ve so far put forward 19 – more than $19 billion. That money is almost entirely allocated. And so the things that we announced today are things that we are able to support with what we have, but they are a down payment on what we need to do with the 5 billion that we’re requesting.
A great example is the test-and-treat pilot programs that Dr. Panjabi mentioned. Those are great efforts. We’re going to work closely with Global – the Global Fund and Unitaid to learn about what works for test-and-treat approaches in countries around the world. But in order to actually implement test-and-treat once we learn what works, that will require significantly more funding, and we do not have funding available for that. So the pilot program is part of the existing rapid response. The very last dregs of the funding that we had from Congress before, we’re trying to use that to leverage more money from the private sector and from Global Fund to be able to start this work. But in order to implement that work and in order to continue the Global VAX program, we need the funding from Congress.
So to be precise, what we announced today does not depend on that, but in order to actually take those efforts forward and make them into the long-term effort to make COVID-19 a manageable respiratory disease and not a death sentence for people at highest risk, we need that funding.
MR PANJABI: Yeah. Think of it as a down payment on – especially with the great treatment example that Dr. Cameron brought up. On the one hand, if you think of three sides of a triangle, on the one side, you have the Clinton Health Access Initiative, which has brought generic manufacturers together to agree to drop the price of these drugs for COVID-19 to under $25 per treatment course if – if there’s purchasing of the drugs at a high volume. And these are the same deals that were done for HIV and AIDS and malaria around the world that were quite successful.
The second part of the triangle is really about showing how it can be done in each country, and that’s not to say it can’t be done. We know it can. It’s just that every country has a different health care system, and it may be that some countries try with one provider – a nurse, for example – other countries may use doctors. Some countries may deliver these in hospitals and clinics. Others may go down – go all the way to the community level. We need to show the demonstration program – this is the United States money.
The third side of the triangle is the dollars to purchase those drugs, and the amount of money that’s been committed to treatment is still quite, quite little compared to what’s needed. I think today we said that the ACT-A – the Accelerating COVID Tools Accelerator that the WHO convened said that the therapeutic pillar is only funded at 3 percent of what’s needed – 3 percent of the funding needed for treatment around the world.
So while we put a down payment here, almost – about 1.7 billion of the $5 billion global component of the request to Congress is for saving lives, including potentially testing and treatment. That’s – we need that funding to be able to scale up the work that’s been done to make good on what the companies have offered as a high-volume, low-price, low-cost deal for some – for lower- and middle-income countries.
I hope that makes sense, Edward.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. It looks like we are out of time, so on behalf of the Washington Foreign Press Center, I’d like to thank Dr. Jha, Senior Director Panjabi, and Senior Advisor Cameron for briefing the foreign press today. Thank you. And with that, this concludes today’s briefing. Thank you.
MR PANJABI: Thank you.
MS CAMERON: Thank you, Doris. Thank you, everyone.