US expands global vaccine pledge at COVID summit

At a mostly virtual global COVID-19 summit today on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting, President Joe Biden pledged another 500 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for lower- and middle-income countries and rallied support for other measures to end the pandemic, including improving the supply of medical equipment and aligning around common goals.

In other developments, the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday that global cases continue to decline, with deaths also falling in most regions.

US announces 500 million more doses

Biden said the vaccine doses pledged today will begin shipping in January. So far, the United States has donated more than any other country, bringing its total to more than 1.1 billion doses—which the White House says amounts to three doses for every one dose administered domestically.

The US Agency for International Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will provide another $370 million to help administer the vaccines where they are needed. Also, Biden called on countries, manufacturers, and other partners to take steps to expand vaccine production and be more transparent about production, availability, and projected output.

At today’s summit, the United States also focused attention on preparing the world to handle future pandemic threats by establishing a global health fund, with $250 million in seed funding. It also called for steps to evaluate progress toward ending the pandemic, including a foreign ministers meeting at the end of the year.

At today’s summit, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said the world needs an ironclad agreement to vaccinate at least 40% of the population by the end of the year and 70% by the middle of next year. “To reach that target, we need 2 billion doses for low- and lower- middle income countries, right now,” he said, adding that vaccines alone won’t end the pandemic.

Tedros said the international community must urgently fund established efforts, such as the ACT Accelerator, to scale up needed tests, oxygen, and treatments.

Calls for US to take even bolder vaccine equity steps

Lawrence Gostin, JD, with the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and Georgetown University Law Center, said on Twitter and in a statement today that the US-hosted summit shows extraordinary US global leadership, but the 500 million vaccine pledge is a “drop in the ocean.”

He added that vaccine donations aren’t enough, and that people in lower income countries shouldn’t have to rely on goodwill from Western countries. Rather, world leaders should empower low- and middle-income countries to produce their own vaccines, which would require vaccine companies to transfer technology and offer expertise.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medical Association in a statement applauded the administration’s initial steps, but also said more steps are needed to achieve vaccine equity, such as enabling more vaccine development and manufacturing in low- and middle-income countries.

Global COVID trends show more signs of decline

In its weekly status report on the pandemic yesterday, the WHO said global cases continue to decline, with death levels also falling in most parts of the world, except for in western Asia. The Middle East and Southeast Asia saw the steepest drops, with levels in Africa and Europe similar to the previous week.

The five countries that reported the most cases include the United States, India, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and the Philippines.

Five more countries reported their first Delta (B1617.2) variant detections, bringing the total to 185.

More global headlines

  • Afghanistan has several acute health needs that need urgent attention, including a stalled COVID-19 response and vaccination program, the WHO said today in a statement. For example, 9 of its 37 COVID-19 hospitals are closed, all phases of its response—including surveillance—have stopped, and 1.8 million doses of vaccine are going unused.
  • The WHO’s Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) yesterday announced that it has selected two centers in Latin America to develop and produce mRNA vaccines. They include Brazil’s Fiocruz Institute and Argentina’s Sinergium Biotech.
  • Children ages 2 and younger in many countries aren’t getting enough food to grow and thrive, and disruptions from emergencies such as COVID-19 are making the problem worse, UNICEF said yesterday, based on an analysis of data from 91 countries. The report said COVID-19 continues to disrupt essential services and is sending more people into poverty.
  • In China, the city of Harbin in the northeast—home to about 10 million people—is on partial lockdown after officials confirmed the first local case since early February, according to Reuters. China’s National Health Commission report today notes 16 new local cases, 13 from ongoing outbreaks in Fujian province and 3 from Harbin.
  • The global total today reached 220,775,845 cases, and 4,712,741 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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