President Biden told global leaders Thursday to combat both the coronavirus and “complacency” by expanding COVID-19 vaccinations and thwarting variants that could disrupt the shift back to normal.
Speaking at the second global COVID-19 summit, Mr. Biden boasted about record donations of vaccines and said the National Institutes of Health will share “stabilized spike protein” technology that will help other countries manufacture shots.
“We have to invest now. We have to secure political commitments now,” Mr. Biden said. “We have to start working to prevent the next variant and the next pandemic now. That’s going to require all of us to do more.”
Mr. Biden rallied the world even as he combats stiff challenges at home. He ordered flags to be flown at half-staff Thursday as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 approached 1 million.
“It’s grief shared by people across all of our nations. Around the world, many more millions have died,” he told the summit. “Millions of children have been orphaned. With thousands more dying every day, now is the time for us to act, all of us together.”
Mr. Biden positioned the U.S. as a global leader in vaccine support for the world early in his term, though Congress is foiling his efforts to maintain that status. Lawmakers cut $5 billion in global funding from a bipartisan Senate package to fund the response.
The $10 billion that remained for the domestic response remains in limbo as Republicans target the administration’s decision to lift Title 42, a pandemic measure that made it easy to turn away migrants at the southern border.
“I continue to call on Congress here at home to take the urgent action to provide emergency COVID-19 funding that is vital to protect Americans. To make sure that we maintain our supplies of COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines, including next-generation vaccines that are being developed,” Mr. Biden said at the summit. “The request also includes $5 billion to keep up our global partnership in the fight against COVID-19.”
Vice President Kamala Harris underscored the struggle for new funding, telling global leaders the administration is “hard at work in Washington” to bolster the global fight.
“Complacency is not an option,” she said.
Mr. Biden convened the first COVID-19 summit in September.
At that time, getting enough shots to poorer countries was the focus, but the effort has pivoted to new problems, including hesitancy about the vaccine and last-mile hurdles in getting the shots transferred and stored properly.
“Now is the time for us to act. All of us, together,” Mr. Biden said. “We have to double down on efforts to get shots in people’s arms. Country by country, community by community.”
He pledged to support rapid testing and antiviral treatment in hard-to-reach parts of the world. Also, the U.S. will supply $450 million for the pandemic preparedness and global health security fund that will be established at the World Bank this summer.
The U.S. was joined Thursday by Belize, which chairs the CARICOM group in the Caribbean; Germany, as holder of the G7 presidency; Indonesia, as holder of the G20 presidency; and Senegal, as the African Union chair.
Leaders plotted a way forward while East Asia offered glaring reminders of the virus’s staying power.
North Korea imposed a nationwide lockdown Thursday after the reclusive country confirmed an outbreak after claiming for two years it had boxed out the virus, according to the Associated Press.
Leader Kim Jong-un even wore a mask in public, though the scale of transmission wasn’t clear in the East Asian nation of 26 million that is ill-equipped to handle a health crisis.
Neighboring China is wielding sweeping lockdowns as part of its zero-COVID approach to the virus.
However, the World Health Organization and other public health experts say draconian restrictions will not be sustainable in the face of fast-moving variants so Beijing should focus on effective vaccines.