Four quick takeaways from the White House Covid-19 Summit

September 23, 2021
by John Fawcett, Vice President of Policy & Advocacy

Targets matter, and the President embracing global vaccination targets really matters.

Perhaps the most important outcome of the Summit is the United States embracing the WHO target of vaccinating at least 70 percent of the population in every country in every income category by this time next year. With only 1 percent of people in the lowest-income countries fully vaccinated today, this is an ambitious goal.

The President’s support for this target provides a clear standard by which American leadership should be judged. The Administration has repeatedly defended its sluggish response to the global pandemic by noting the U.S. has donated more doses than all other countries combined – sounds impressive, but it masks how little the U.S. has done relative to what is really needed to stop the pandemic globally. Post-Summit, the standard for leadership is not just whether the U.S. is doing more than others, but whether we’re making meaningful progress toward reaching 70 percent vaccination in every country by September 2022.

The closed format of the Covid-19 Summit undermined the U.S. call for accountability.

The White House invited heads of state, international organizations, NGOs, foundations, and corporate partners to make specific commitments at the Summit. So, what commitments were made? Good question. While the remarks of the President and other senior U.S. leaders were broadcast, most of the four-hour Summit was not, and the event was closed to press. There won’t be accountability for Summit commitments without an account of what was committed.

Vaccine donations alone are simply not enough.

The big headline out of the Summit is the U.S. purchased and pledged donation of another 500 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses, mostly through COVAX. This brings the total U.S. donation commitment to over 1.1 billion, although only about 160 million doses have been shipped.

Donations are an important mechanism to reallocate shots to countries that have so far been denied meaningful access. But this far into the pandemic it’s difficult to applaud vaccine charity when the world needs vaccine justice. The Summit didn’t produce a breakthrough on waiving intellectual property protections for vaccines, transferring mRNA vaccine-making technology to regional manufacturing hubs, or even renegotiating contracts so that vaccine doses coming off the production line today go to countries that need them most (the additional Pfizer doses won’t start shipping until next year). Over $1 billion of taxpayer money and the expertise of NIH scientists allowed Moderna to develop its Covid-19 vaccine. President Biden has the authority to share this vaccine recipe with the world, and he should use it.

The Administration is headed in the wrong direction on financing global pandemic preparedness.

Countries need additional financing to strengthen health systems to prevent, detect, and respond to disease outbreaks. However, the U.S. proposal to channel billions of dollars through a financial intermediary fund (or “FIF”) at the World Bank fails to build on what’s worked. As former CDC Director Tom Frieden wrote, “A crucial lesson from preparedness work over the past 20 years has been that the most effective emergency response systems build on robust, scalable systems that respond to everyday events.”

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is the best-situated funding mechanism to scale up the health systems investments required for pandemic preparedness. Its inclusive governance and strong track record of fighting infectious disease are unmatched. Rather than setting up a parallel World Bank fund, President Biden should lead a global effort to mobilize the funding and support for the Global Fund to tackle both existing and future pandemics.

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