Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Virtual COVID-19 Global Action Plan Foreign Ministerial Meeting
Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Inaudible) thank you and Japan for your leadership role today as well as throughout. It is greatly appreciated, and I think I’m in violent agreement with pretty much everything you just said. Japan has played a critical role in our Global Action Plan on COVID, particularly the last-mile support like expanding the cold chain technology so more vaccines can actually be shipped to more places. And let me thank, as well, Director General Tedros of the World Health Organization for joining us today and for his leadership every single day in this global effort.
Back in February, when we foreign ministers last met on COVID, we launched the Global Action Plan to try to accelerate progress across six key lines of effort that were focused on the areas of the greatest need, where we identified the biggest gaps: getting more shots into arms, strengthening our supply chains, closing information gaps to try to increase confidence in vaccines, providing more support to frontline workers, increasing access to treatments and therapeutics, and finally, building a stronger, more effective global health architecture for the future. And you heard Foreign Minister Hayashi touch on virtually all of those lines.
And what is so inspiring is that countries stepped up to take responsibility for individual lines of effort based on their unique capabilities, with rigorous coordination across all of these lines of efforts. Because ultimately, that’s the only way that we’ll finally succeed in ending the acute phase of this pandemic. So I think it’s fair to say that since then, we’ve achieved real progress on all six lines of effort that we decided on together.
Just on shots in arms, for example, among the 92 low- and middle-income countries supported by COVAX’s Advance Market Commitment program, vaccination coverage in that time has jumped from 28 percent at the end of January to 48 percent today. That is real, significant – insufficient, but real significant – progress.
We’re seeing individual countries make major strides. For example, Malawi, which recently focused on vaccinating elderly people with a campaign that reached more people in two days than all previous efforts combined – targeted campaigns like these are critical to trying to close the vaccination gaps. To that end, the United States began distributing pediatric vaccine doses last month. This is for children ages five to twelve. We’ve already donated more than six million doses to eleven countries and we’re going to do more, because kids everywhere deserve protection from COVID-19.
On supply chains, our countries have begun working on an international clearinghouse platform for medical supplies that will make it easier for suppliers to actually connect with buyers, and that will produce much greater efficiency in this effort.
On closing the information gaps, we have campaigns underway in a number of countries to combat misinformation and disinformation. To cite a couple of examples, in the Philippines, the United States worked with religious leaders to boost vaccine confidence. These leaders incorporated COVID-19 messages into their prayer services. They reached more than half a million people in two parts of the country. Now 97 percent of eligible people in those places have been vaccinated.
On support for health workers, among the 92 low- and middle-income AMC countries, 75 percent of health workers have now been vaccinated.
On increasing access to treatments, this is the next challenge that we have to address together, and Foreign Minister, Hayashi also touched on this. And we do that, we think, by accelerating our work on robust test-to-treat programs that can connect a patient with treatment when they test positive. That reduces hospitalization; it saves lives.
And finally, on enhancing global health security more broadly, last month the World Bank helped establish this new financial intermediary fund that Foreign Minister Hayashi mentioned, and we appreciate very much, Yoshi, Japan’s initial contribution. That’s going to help strengthen national, regional, and global capacities to prevent the next pandemic – or if not to prevent it, to make sure that we have in place what’s necessary to mitigate it and to help people.
Several donors have already stepped forward, including the United States. We’ve made a pledge of $450 million. We hope more will contribute because, as we’ve seen with COVID-19, sustainable financing is necessary to break the cycle that we often see: a panic when something happens and then neglect after a little while. That’s what too often characterizes global health security.
All of these efforts will help us tackle other outbreaks happening around the world, like monkeypox and other diseases. The health of our people is simply more secure when we’re doing this, when we’re working together. And I think we’ve already demonstrated that in the months since the Global Action Plan took off.
Let me just commend everyone and every country that rose to the challenge and showed leadership across all of these different lines of effort. Our list of partner countries has grown. This meeting is actually significantly larger than it was six months ago. That’s also an encouraging sign of the world’s commitment.
Now, again, to echo my friend the foreign minister, we have to keep going but with even greater urgency. We’re seeing a rise in infections in every region, as well as new variants that are more transmissible, even as vaccination remains a strong defense against hospitalization and death. Many of you are battling higher infection rates from BA.4 and BA.5, just as we are in the United States. These variants will continue to threaten us until we’ve vaccinated more people everywhere.
So we can’t be complacent. We have to continue to marshal attention. We have to continue to marshal commitment to ensure that ending COVID-19 remains a top focus for our governments and for our citizens. And we’ve got to continue to coordinate relentlessly with each other, because this is the definition of a challenge that no country can solve alone.
We’ve got two months until we all gather at the UN General Assembly, so I would just urge that we accelerate our work so that when we meet in New York, we have new progress to announce, new ideas to discuss, new innovations to share.
Again, to everyone here today, thank you for being part of what really is a worthy enterprise on behalf of all of the people the world. Thank you.