COVID-19 has left more than 5 million dead and disrupted the health and well-being of many millions more. It is still today ravaging the global economy and local livelihoods, disrupting global supply chains, and constraining global mobility, threatening peace and stability. This is not just a health crisis – we must end the pandemic in order to enable a return to economic and geopolitical stability. Foreign Ministers must therefore apply the same urgency to COVID-19 that we would apply to managing a global economic, security or political crisis – because the pandemic is all of these. We all have significant work to do to more equitably meet the goal of vaccinating at least 40 percent of the global population by the end of 2021 and 70 percent in all countries in 2022. Further, we must also build back better to prevent, detect, and respond to future health security threats on a global scale. Health security is vital to national security, and we must start to address these issues with commensurate urgency.
Recognizing that foreign ministers must play a leading role in advancing these efforts and must therefore engage on a regular basis to share views, forge plans and unite behind the actions needed to ensure the security of all nations, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on November 10, 2021 convened a virtual COVID-19 Ministerial. The meeting focused on ending the pandemic and building better health security to prevent, prepare for, and respond to infectious disease and other biological threats. Ministers discussed the state of the global response to and impact from COVID-19; meeting global vaccine coverage, diagnostic, and therapeutic targets; vaccine sharing principles, transparency, solidarity, and equity; the need for sustained financing to build global health security capacity; the role of regional collaboration and architecture in health security; and the need for coordinated political leadership in multisector responses to prevent future pandemics. In addition to welcoming the work of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), Ministers underscored the importance of coalescing around shared targets, upholding and increasing political and financial commitments, and turning those commitments into action. The Ministerial provided an opportunity to identify gaps and solutions that require political leadership and launched what will be a series of regular engagements by foreign ministers.
Accelerating Towards Vaccine Equity and Impact: Vaccine Principles and Expanding Global Vaccine Manufacturing
Participants reiterated calls to work together to end the COVID-19 pandemic as soon as possible, with every country, partner, and organization doing its part, aligning around shared goals and targets, and holding each other to account. Ministers broadly aligned around the World Health Organization (WHO) vaccination targets and expressed shared urgency to do more, to enhance accountability, and to monitor progress. Reflecting on the state of vaccine supply and readiness, participants noted the role foreign ministers can play in accelerating vaccine access globally. Some Ministers raised cooperation, including a positive view towards sharing relevant data and information, to make safe and efficacious vaccines available, and supporting scientific and technological cooperation among national, regional and global institutions for research, development and production of vaccines and consumables.
The Secretary welcomed new efforts to address the vital logistical challenge of getting vaccines into people’s arms. The United States praised the new Global COVID Corps (GCC) initiative, an expanding coalition of leading private sector companies aimed at providing their pro bono expertise, tools, and capabilities to support logistics and vaccination efforts in low- and middle-income countries. This independent private-sector initiative will partner with countries and global health stakeholders to augment ongoing efforts in areas such as supply management, supply chain logistics, vaccine site network infrastructure, vaccine site optimization, and demand generation.
Participants discussed the challenges of meeting global vaccine targets for populations in every country and income category with quality, safe, and effective vaccines. Participants called for more urgent and equitable distribution of vaccine doses. To advance the goals of transparency and accountability in global vaccine and therapeutic allocation and to hold us all accountable for achieving targets aimed at ending this pandemic, the Secretary welcomed the launch of the Multilateral Task Force and ACT-A’s COVID-19 Global Access Tracker (COVID19GlobalTracker.org) with a public-facing dashboard tracking progress against the key targets. Secretary Blinken also announced that the USAID Administrator will convene development ministers and international organizations to accelerate the pandemic response and mobilize action around targets to vaccinate the world and save lives now in low- and low-middle-income countries. The Ministers discussed the “Principles for Responsible Contributors to the Global Effort” released at the COVID Summit, which the United States views as a path to guide collective, global commitments to equitable global distribution of safe and effective WHO -authorized COVID-19 vaccines. The Secretary underscored the importance of those Principles, which include: governments committing to donate, rather than sell, surplus doses to low- and middle-income countries and economies in need, with no political strings attached; to support COVAX as the main global mechanism for sharing WHO-authorized vaccines; to fight vaccine misinformation and disinformation; to exercise transparency; to build public trust; and to work toward common goals and targets to measure progress and to hold ourselves accountable.
Ministers discussed the need to accelerate efforts to boost global manufacturing. Secretary Blinken called on countries, manufacturers, and other partners to expand global and regional vaccine, consumable, diagnostic, therapeutic, and PPE manufacturing capacity, including the production of inputs, and to enhance transparency to make production and distribution more predictable and planning more efficient. He emphasized the United States’ efforts to work with partner nations and manufacturers to increase local and regional capability to produce safe, effective and quality assured vaccines. Many Ministers advocated for supporting local manufacturing and regulatory capacity, and investing in efforts to scale up production and innovation in new regions, and welcomed the work undertaken by the COVAX ACT-A Facilitation Council Vaccine Manufacturing Working Group.
Building the Capacity We Need: Creating Platforms to Sustain Financing and Regional Collaboration
Ministers discussed marshalling political will and leadership to build the global capacity needed to prevent, detect, and respond to current and future health security threats, at the domestic, regional, and global levels. Ministers addressed the need for a financing mechanism with sustained funding both to save lives now and to prepare for the next pandemic. Secretary Blinken reiterated the United States’ support for the establishment of a Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF) and outlined his view that it is a foreign policy imperative in our collective strategic interest a view supported by many Ministers. He emphasized that, with a sustained flow of capital from multiple sources, a FIF could allocate financing where investments are most urgently needed to catalyse investment and to bolster pandemic preparedness and response (PPR), particularly in areas noted by WHO and highlighted in recent reports, such as genomic and disease surveillance, preparedness-specific health system functions, prevention, and research and development — investing in addressing country-specific, regional, and global preparedness gaps, thereby strengthening the global health architecture by building capacity where it is needed most to prevent the next public health emergency. Secretary Blinken called for his counterparts to work expeditiously with health and finance ministers to accomplish this goal in early 2022, and he noted that the recently announced G20 Health and Finance Task Force should consider this a top priority. Many participants noted the need for consistent and reliable financing and support for all international health institutions, including the WHO, and the G20 commitment to strengthening of national health systems to achieve quality health care at all levels and Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
Drawing on the expertise of regional leaders who were present, Ministers discussed the role of regional organizations in global health security. The Secretary stated the United States’ commitment to work with counterparts and regional organizations to build regional frameworks to tackle structural weaknesses, financing gaps and the limitations in the existing public health architecture that have been laid bare by the pandemic. Attendees discussed how best to leverage regional organizations and bodies to help advance issues unique to them and noted that regional organizations have played a critical role in response efforts by aggregating demand and joint procurement, coordinated resource management and planning, and disease surveillance, and discussed creating capacity for regional political coordination to address unique local challenges.
Global Direction for the Future: Building Global Health Security Architecture and Defining the Role of Political Leadership in Global Health Security Governance
The Ministers reflected on the role of foreign ministers and political leadership in addressing future health security threats, including the need to ensure that the world has the structures and forums needed to enable global leaders to take necessary decisions to address transnational, global health threats. The Secretary emphasized that, in the wake of past global health threats, national governments, international organizations, and civil society had not made the investments necessary to prevent future crises. He called on the international community to seize the momentum around the current pandemic and take a leap forward to establish a more effective, innovative, responsive, and equitable system for global health security.
The United States, noting the strong recommendation of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR), supported the creation of a mechanism such as a Global Health Threats Council to facilitate high-level political engagement to support mitigation of future global health threats; spur action to help end and recover from the current COVID-19 pandemic; and coordinate across relevant entities for pandemic preparedness and response, and facilitated a discussion to engage and consider other views. Participants discussed the important role of and strengthening the WHO. Secretary Blinken noted the value of working together to develop the substantive elements of a new multilateral international instrument to strengthen our pandemic preparedness and response, particularly with regard to equity. They looked forward to constructive deliberations in the lead up to the upcoming special session of the World Health Assembly (WHASS).
Ministers noted that the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic should be a healthier, safer, more secure, and more equitable world for all. Secretary Blinken reiterated the call for a whole-of-government and whole-of-society response to solve core challenges, ending the pandemic, and building back better.