Briefing with Gayle Smith, State Department Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security On the Biden-Harris Administration’s Plans for Global Vaccine Sharing

06/04/2021 08:06 PM EDT


Gayle Smith, State Department Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security

Via Teleconference

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone, and thanks for joining us and especially thanks for joining us on a Friday afternoon. We are really pleased to have with us today Gayle Smith, the State Department Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security. Gayle will be able to chat with us a bit about yesterday’s announcement and offer some context around it, and then she will be happy to take your questions. As a reminder, this is on the record, but the contents of this briefing are embargoed until the end of the call. So with that, I will turn over to Coordinator Smith.

MS SMITH: Thank you, Ned. And thank you so much, everybody, for joining us. I’m just going to run through a little bit of the why, how, and who and a little bit on what comes next, and then happy to take your questions.

I mean, as for why we’re doing this, I think the President has articulated a very urgent need, which is ending the global pandemic, and as part of that tackling the problem that is that we’ve got a real challenge on the supply of vaccines against demand. It’s in our interest to do this. Our own health security is at risk, but it has – as has been said, I think thousands of times since this pandemic started, none of us is safe until all of us are safe.

I think another reason is that U.S. leadership matters. We’ve been in consultation with a number of countries around the world, and I think it makes a big difference when the U.S. steps up and leads and organizes other countries to join forces. One of the reasons we’re not doing this is to curry any political favor. Our goal is to end the pandemic and maximize the supply as quickly as we can.

As to how we’ve thought through this first tranche of 25 million doses – and I would remind you that this is part of an initial 80 million dose commitment announced by the President – first, we wanted to make sure that we could maximize global coverage in this first round given the breadth of the need and the requirements.

The second is to be able to address both surges and what I would call pre-surges. There are a number of countries that may have been doing well, but with the rise of variants or other problems, they’re seeing sudden upticks – some of the things we’ve seen here in the United States – and there is the great urgency to move.

And third, we wanted to be very responsive to the very large number of countries who have come to us about their needs for vaccines and also to our neighbors.

In terms of the allocation of the vaccines, we will do at least 75 percent through COVAX. COVAX is the largest vaccine delivery platform in the world. We know it well. They’re an important partner. It’s built on something called Gavi, the Global Vaccine Alliance, which the United States has supported for many, many years to be the primary delivery mechanism for childhood vaccines.

We have identified the countries we want these vaccines to go to, and we’ll work with COVAX to have them delivered. That’s roughly just over 6 million across Latin America including Caribbean, 7 million South and Southeast Asia, 5 million across Africa. The balance of 25 percent, we are likely to do bilaterally. It gives us greater flexibility. And again, as we’ve seen, there are a lot of pop-ups and flairs in this pandemic, and we want to be able to move vaccines on an urgent basis if needed.

What comes next – we will continue this three-part strategy to maximize supply, again, by doing this dose sharing – and again, we anticipate it will increase over the coming months; by working with and encouraging U.S. manufacturers to increase production, including by the last quarter if not earlier of this year and well into next year; and to also work on global vaccine production. The international architecture for vaccine production was built for a much smaller number of doses than the world demands now, and so we want to increase production in its capacity and in fact decentralize it so there are more places in the world manufacturing and able to distribute vaccines.

Finally, I’d remind you that this dose-sharing operation is nested in a much broader response by the United States Government which includes vaccine readiness and working with countries to make sure that their health systems can provide the services that are needed both to deal with the spread of the virus but also to deliver vaccines. Many of the humanitarian impacts of the pandemic, which have been acute all across the world, the systemic economic impacts – so we’re working on all of those fronts as well.

And we will be working very hard in the coming days as we are soon going into the G7 Summit. And we’ve been having very, very productive discussions with our partners there about our collective efforts to do as much as we possibly can to get global vaccine coverage and to bring this pandemic to an end.

So let me stop there, and happy to take your questions.

MR PRICE: Excellent. Operator, do you mind just repeating the instructions to ask a question?

OPERATOR: Sure. If you would like to ask a question on today’s call, please press 1 then 0. That command, again, 1 then 0.

MR PRICE: Great. Let’s go to the line of David Brunnstrom.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Thank you very much for this. You mentioned just there the G7. New Zealand is hosting APEC, and I think that’s actually later on today. It’s been pushing APEC countries to remove tariffs on vaccines and products in the vaccine supply chain. I’m just wondering if the U.S. supports that.

And I also wondered if you could – when you talk about the decentralizing production capacity – and we know that the United States is going to be relaxing restrictions on export of raw materials – if you allow the export of raw materials to other countries, is that fully* the understanding that those countries will be producing for export rather than for their own domestic consumption? Many thanks.

MS SMITH: Those are really good questions, and I think two things. I mean, look, we need greater vaccine productive capacity even without a pandemic, so I think that’s quite important. I think our – certainly our hope would be that countries will produce – certainly they’re going to produce for themselves, but also to be able to export, because again, that’s been a real obstacle that has come up.

I have to confess I am not familiar with but will immediately look into New Zealand’s latest moves and can come back to you on our position on that.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to the line of Josh Wingrove.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for doing this. Can you offer a little insight into the reiteration yesterday of the 80 million pledge? Should that be interpreted as confidence that the AstraZeneca doses will become available this month, or is the plan to make up the – what is quoted, a 55 million balance due, for lack of a better phrase, with those other authorized vaccines?

MS SMITH: Yeah, good question. Our expectation and certainly hope is that we will get a clearance from the FDA. Given that that is a regulatory public health agency, we are not going to prejudice that at all and let them come forth with their determination. And then we’ll act on the basis of that. But I think what you heard from the President, the commitment to 80 million vaccines, our current expectation is that the balance after these 25 million will come from the AstraZeneca doses.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to the line of Nicole Gaouette.

QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Two questions. I’m wondering if you could talk us through how you arrived at that distribution – those numbers between Latin America, South and Southeast Asia, and Africa.

And the second part of my question is: When those remaining 55 million doses will be made available whether you have a sense whether they’ll all go to COVAX or whether you’ll also be holding some of those back to distribute bilaterally.

MS SMITH: Good questions. The way we looked at the numbers (inaudible) – obviously, given the demand, this is a bit challenging. Obviously, we want to give a certain focus to our own hemisphere, and so on the Latin American side that made a big difference – Latin America and the Caribbean. But I think if you look at – we’ve got three regions covered and focused on, because as I said at the top, we want to start laying the ground for global coverage so that when we do the next tranche of shared vaccines, we will be adding another layer of global coverage and so on and so forth. So that’s number one.

Number two is there are a number of places where there are either surge conditions or pre-surge conditions. We’ve seen a spike – many of the countries that have been affected by the extraordinary surge in India, for example. And there are a number of cases there where if we move quickly – you want to make sure healthcare workers are covered and other things. And again, we are trying to be responsive, including to our neighbors. The important thing I’d note on the actual allocation is that, again, this is the first round. This is just the beginning. So as we share more doses, we anticipate having greater coverage.

As to the allocation of the next round, we will likely – I can’t say for certain – follow a similar model to this one, but we can come back to you, absolutely, on that when we’re ready to move on the next tranche. But this seems to be an effective and workable formula.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to the line of Patsy Widakuswara.

QUESTION: Hi, yes. Thank you for taking my call and thank you for doing this briefing. Can you speak a little bit about – the administration has been saying that this is not going to be currying political favors, but can you speak a little bit about the branding of these vaccines? We saw some of the shipment that was going out to South Korea had American flags on them. Would there be similar kind of branding even for the shipment that’s going to COVAX?

And my second question is on vaccine patent waiver. We saw that the EU pushed a counterproposal saying that they don’t want to support the TRIPS waiver. Do you think the administration will be pushing for this at the G7? Thank you.

MS SMITH: Yeah, good question. I think on the branding side I think there’s a real difference between trying to curry political favor and letting countries know that assistance we may be providing is from the American people. I think those are two very different things. So I think people will know. The vaccines will convey that they are from the American people, and I think when vaccines start arriving in country our ambassadors and other staff will be there to greet them. So that’s – yes, that these come from the United States. That’s an important fact and I think people will be well aware of that.

On the EU position, our current position is as it has been, that we support the TRIPS waiver. As you know, the next step on that is very arduous text negotiations by a consensus-based organization which are being led by our U.S. Trade Representative. I suspect that these issues will come up at the G7, but I’m not able to tell you any more specifically on that. I expect, frankly – quite focused on the response to the pandemic in the main.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to the line of Carmen Paun.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for taking my question. I was wondering if you could say from the 25 million first tranche how many of those are Moderna doses, how many are J&J, and how many are Pfizer, and if you already have a timeline of when they are going to start being shipped out to countries. Thank you.

MS SMITH: Sure. So what these are – that’s a really good question. What these are is it’s a combination of vaccines from our own stocks. There will be multiple types of vaccines available. And what we will do is there’s a process of sort of matching vaccines to the vaccination program. In some countries they may have some amount of an initial vaccine. J&J may be easier than a two-dose. So we will be working that through with COVAX and with partner countries.

In terms of the timing, we intend to move as quickly as possible. Delivering vaccines and donating vaccines isn’t quite as simple as putting them on plane and dropping them off. There are regulatory and legal procedures that have to be in true. Transporting vaccines, as we’ve seen in the United States, they are important and somewhat delicate medicaments we need to do very carefully. So we’ve got teams set up to do all of that, work through that as quickly as possible and kick off deliveries as soon as we can and to establish a regular cadence. But again, and importantly, there are steps that have to be gone through before we can start moving them, but we’ve already started the work on that.

MR PRICE: We’ll take a final question from the line of Doug Byun.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. I wanted to ask a question about the shipment to South Korea. President Biden said in his joint press conference with President Jae-in that he would help – the United States would help inoculate 550,000 troops, South Korean troops, and apparently referring to active service members. But – and as a result, the United States sent 1.some million doses of J&J vaccine to South Korea which arrived earlier today. But the thing is the South Korean FDA does not allow people under the age of 30 be inoculated with J&J vaccine, so I was wondering if the United States knew about this South Korean FDA’s regulation regarding J&J vaccine when he made the decision to provide J&J instead of the other two types that you have here.

MS SMITH: Yes, my understanding – and we may need to do a follow-up with you on this – on this question is that the way this has worked and the way these future deliveries will work is among the first initial steps are to understand what countries have approved which vaccines and then proceed from there through a number of regulatory and legal steps. I would be happy to work with my colleagues to get a more specific answer back to you on that.

MR PRICE: Well, Gayle, thank you very much. Thank you very much, everyone, for tuning in and hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.

MS SMITH: Thanks so much, everybody.