February 2, 2023

Amid WHO warnings on deadly virus that transcends borders, President Biden to announce additional steps to fight COVID-19 overseas

World Health Organization Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove during a press briefing in Geneva on March 9
World Health Organization (WHO) Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove gestures as she speaks during a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquaters in Geneva on March 9

In a White House speech on Thursday, U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. acknowledged one more time that the coronavirus “transcends borders,” and pledged to continue fighting it overseas even as he battles it at home.

The American leader said he will be announcing additional steps later this month to help the rest of the world fight the deadly pandemic.

“We also know this virus transcends borders. That’s why, even as we execute this plan at home, we need to continue fighting the virus overseas, continue to be the arsenal of vaccines,”  Mr. Biden said in the White House State Dining Room on September 9, 2021.

Announcing that the United States has donated nearly 140 million vaccine doses to over 90 countries, “more than all other countries combined, including Europe, China, and Russia combined,” President Biden described the vaccine donations as “American leadership on a global stage.”

“And that’s just the beginning,” he said. “We’ve also now started to ship another 500 million COVID vaccines — Pfizer vaccines — purchased to donate to 100 lower-income countries in need of vaccines.”

More broadly on the pandemic preparedness, President Biden said he is going to be releasing a plan in greater detail next month “so that America isn’t caught flat-footed when a new pandemic comes again — as it will.”

President Joe Biden, King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Al Hussein Bin Abdullah II of Jordan walk along the Colonnade of the White House on Monday, July 19, 2021, to the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

He acknowledged that inside the United States, communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the virus, and asserted that his administration will “ensure that equity continues to be at the center of our response.”

“We’ll ensure that everyone is reached,” he said. “My first responsibility as President is to protect the American people and make sure we have enough vaccine for every American, including enough boosters for every American who’s approved to get one.” 

At a her daily press conference on Friday, September 10, 2021, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said “the United States wants to be an arsenal of vaccine distribution to the global community, and we have provided, donated more than every other country in the world combined.”

Press Secretary Jen Psaki, joined by Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, arrives for a press briefing, Thursday, July 22, 2021, in the James S. Brady White House Press Briefing Room. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

“It is a responsibility of the President to protect and save lives in the United States as well. That’s why we announced the steps that we announced yesterday (September 9). We need to do both,” she said.

But the Biden administration may have to do more and fast to defeat the coronavirus everywhere and prevent it from returning to the United States, even if every American is vaccinated against the coronavirus, indicated the World Health Organization a day before Mr. Biden’s speech.

At a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday, September 8, 2021, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an American health expert and the World Health Organization COVID-19 Technical Lead, described as “a false sense of security,” the belief that richer countries will be safe if COVID-19 was defeated within their borders.

“There is a false sense of security that if your population reaches a certain percentage (of vaccination) you will be safe,” she said. “The Delta variant is showing us that we cannot sit on our laurels, we have to remain vigilant and do what we can to not only get vaccine equity around the world, but to ensure that we stop this virus from circulating as much as we possibly can.”

World Health Organization (WHO) Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove gestures as she speaks during a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquaters in Geneva on March 9, 2020. – The World Health Organization said on March 9, 2020 that more than 70 percent of those infected with the new coronavirus in China have recovered, adding that the country was “bringing its epidemic under control”. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

Dr. Van Kerkhove said the world still has an opportunity to defeat COVID-19, despite missing earlier opportunities at the global level, by implementing a plan released by the World Health Organization on February 4, 2020.

“The plan exists. The plan for controlling COVID-19 was issued on the 4th of February 2020, four days after the director general (of the World Health Organization) declared a public health emergency of international concern,” she said, warning that the Delta variant will not be the last variant of concern.

Responding to a question by Today News Africa‘s Simon Ateba on whether the WHO needed to adopt new strategies to defeat COVID-19, the WHO expert insisted that the plan has been in existence for more than a year, adding that the story is about how the plan for controlling the coronavirus is implemented.

At the Geneva press conference, the Director General of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was also also brutally frank and exceptionally honest about the unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the world as the pandemic continues to claim tens of thousands of lives every week.

“Globally, 5.5 billion vaccine doses have now been administered, but 80 percent have been administered in high- and upper-middle income countries,” he said. “High-income countries have promised to donate more than 1 billion doses, but less than 15 percent of those doses have materialized. Manufacturers have promised to prioritize COVAX and low-income countries. We don’t want any more promises. We just want the vaccines.”

That inequality lingers even as COVID-19 kills more people every day, even as the world knows what to do, he added.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference following the fourth meeting of the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee for Pneumonia due to the Novel Coronavirus 2019-nCoV WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“More than 50 thousand people have died with COVID-19 every week since October last year, and for the past month, deaths have remained at almost 70 thousand a week,” the WHO chief said. “We have the solutions to stop transmission and save lives. The inequitable distribution of life-saving tools including diagnostics, oxygen, PPE and vaccines is driving a two-track pandemic.” 

Dr. Ghebreyesus announced that the WHO was extending the global moratorium on booster doses to the end of the year from the previous one which was to end at the end of September.

“A month ago, I called for a global moratorium on booster doses at least until the end of September, to prioritize vaccinating the most at-risk people around the world who are yet to receive their first dose,” he said. “There has been little change in the global situation since then, so today I am calling for an extension of the moratorium until at least the end of the year, to enable every country to vaccinate at least 40 percent of its population.” 

The WHO chief asserted that “as the world’s largest producers, consumers and donors of vaccines, the world’s 20 leading economies hold the key to vaccine equity and ending the pandemic.”

“Now is the time for true leadership, not empty promises,” he added.   

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