Moderator: Good afternoon. I’d like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s press briefing. Today, we are very pleased to be joined by Gayle Smith, the U.S. State Department’s Coordinator for Global COVID Response and Health Security, and by Jeremy Konyndyk, Executive Director of the USAID COVID-19 Task Force and Senior Advisor to the USAID Administrator.
With that, let’s get started. Coordinator Smith and Director Konyndyk, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to Coordinator Smith for her opening remarks.
Ms. Smith: Thank you so much, and good morning, afternoon, evening to everybody. Really appreciate your joining us. I’d like to just make some opening remarks on the summit that the President convened last week, because this was a really critical event for us in trying to move the world forward to do more and to do more faster and better on ending this pandemic. And I’d point to three broad goals.
First, we wanted to create some real momentum so that we have regular intervals where we can, with partners, push the world forward. So the summit was the first step in something that will include at the end of next month the G20 summit; the Secretary of State announced that he will convene foreign ministers before the end of the year; and the President spoke of another summit after the first of the year. In using those events to create momentum, we also though it really important to line up the world behind a set of targets. In other words, what is it going to take to get the job done? So we circulated a list of targets. These are targets that, in the main, have been put out by different institutions in the international community and we think make sense. What we want to do is measure our progress against those targets as the world so that it’s not just a question of doing more, but doing enough.
And then, I think, third, we wanted to bilaterally and through other channels urge our partners to do more. And while this was not a pledging summit per se, we did hear from a number of countries of their intentions to do more. The President announced our intention to do more on the vaccine front with an additional 500 million Pfizer vaccines, but also on things like vaccine readiness, which is something Jeremy and his team lead the U.S. Government on, making sure that those vaccines can be effectively delivered; on calling for more transparency so that we know what supply is available, where it is, when it’s available, how we can move it with partners to get vaccine coverage way, way, way up; on increasing manufacturing around the world. One of the challenges we have is that we need the production of more vaccines, but more vaccines in more places.
So a number of things were put out there as things that we will do, but this is the start of a really big push from the United States, and I’m happy to take questions about it or say more about it, as you like. But let me turn it over to Jeremy to say more and also to speak a little bit about where things are now. Over to you, Jeremy, and thank you, everybody.
Mr. Konyndyk: Thanks, Gayle. Yeah, and as Gayle said, the vision for this summit and the message that we were trying to send and the countries that participated were trying to send is that we all – we all need to do more, but we all need to envision that as doing not just more, but enough. So it’s not about simply adding – kind of adding a little bit more to what we’re already doing, but really setting clear targets that tell us what enough looks like and what is it that we need to achieve in order to, as the President said, be in a position to come back to the UN General Assembly next September with 70 percent of the world vaccinated, with the worst of this pandemic behind us, and really able to pivot towards a safer new normal.
And so as we look at what that’s going to take, I just want to highlight a few of the things that were emphasized at the summit. The first was ensuring that there is enough vaccine supply for the world at large and to make a really hard – a hard push towards accelerating equitable vaccine availability around the world. And so the summit affirmed the target articulated by the G20 earlier in the summer about achieving 40 percent global vaccination by the end of this year, and added a new target or I’d say affirmed and endorsed a target of 70 percent vaccination on an equitable basis of the world in time for UNGA next year. And that’s a very – that’s a very big target; it is certainly ambitious. We also think that – and as the President said, if we choose to do this, we can do this. And so it’s an ambitious target but an achievable one.
Doing that, of course, is partly a matter of ensuring that the doses are available, and so there were calls for increased contributions. The U.S. put on the table a commitment to purchase and share another 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which will bring total planned U.S. dose-sharing up to about 1.1 billion doses, which is more than – considerably more than any other donor. We were heartened to see contributions announced by several others, including some new contributions from our European partners, and we’re really – we’re eager to see those start flowing more rapidly.
But supply is only one part of the picture, and so while we’re working to address the supply gap, we also want to see some of the pharmaceutical companies be a little more transparent about some of the tradeoffs that they’re making in how they’re allocating doses. We – they’re all facing a lot of demand for their products. It’s not always clear when COVAX, for example, is cutting its supply forecast for the year by a quarter, what is the basis on which they’re not getting the doses? So we – I think we just needed to have more – we all need to have more clarity and transparency on where the available supply is going and how it’s being allocated.
And then, of course, we need to get doses into arms. The getting a dose delivered to a port does not achieve what we want to achieve, which is 70 percent vaccinations by next September. And so there was a real call and push for increasing support to vaccine delivery, and the U.S. announced new funding on that that’s an important down payment, but we’re all going to have to do a lot more.
And then finally, the last thing I want to highlight is just the Saving Lives Now agenda, which is reflecting that vaccinating 70 percent of the world is not an immediate process and there are going to be a lot of needs and a lot of risks along the way, and people are still dying today for lack of oxygen; health workers are still at risk today for lack of PPE; there are still many countries that can’t test enough. And so while we are focusing hard on accelerating equitable vaccination, we can’t take our eye off the ball on those sorts of measures that are going to save lives now, and in particular on oxygen we think there is a lot more that could be achieve that could save a lot of lives over the coming year. So we are making a big push on that and encouraging others to do the same.
Moderator: Great, thank you very much for that. We’re now going to turn to the question and answer portion of today’s briefing.
So our first question will go to Gabriele Steinhauser from the Wall Street Journal, in South Africa. Her question is: “Industry data suggests that in addition to the vaccine donations the U.S. has already announced, the U.S. will have accumulated some 250 million spare doses by the end of the year. Those numbers take into account booster shots. Are you considering additional donations out of those stocks?”
Ms. Smith: Sure, let me take that. And one of the things that I mentioned was transparency, and we’ve called for transparency in the manufacturing sector but also with respect to countries that are donating vaccines, so we know what we’ve got and when we’ve got it. And what I would say on that is that one of the challenges there is that there isn’t that level of visibility yet, and some of the production projections are often higher than what can actually be produced, all of which means that what we have at a given time is a function of what arrives, when.
Our intention, as has been made clear by the President – and we continue to actively share doses now – is we’ll continue to do that. So the President announced in June 500 million Pfizer doses; last week an additional, so that’s 1 billion. We have shared approximately 150 million doses to date out of our stocks and are regularly adding more to that as we can.
So the answer is we intend to continue sharing vaccines. I can’t speak to which stock they’ll come out of. It’s a determination of what we have and when, but we’ll keep that up.
Moderator: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Lori Hinnant with the Associated Press. “There is widespread agreement that donations will not be enough to vaccinate the world, and the WHO has started an mRNA hub for the current pandemic and future ones. There has been no cooperation for the hub from industry. What is the administration doing to that end and other efforts to widen the global reach of mRNA technology, especially that paid for by American taxpayers? What is the long-term plan for global vaccination expansion?”
Ms. Smith: Quickly, I’ll say something. We totally agree that there needs to be increased production and, quite frankly, not just for this pandemic but for any future global health threat that we face and, frankly, for immunization more broadly. For example, there’s a lot of very positive news about a malaria vaccine. If that’s proven to be as effective as everybody hopes, that’s going to be something we’re going to want to see produced at scale because we know the impact of that disease.
So we’ve approached it in a number of ways. One is through investments that were made early in the President’s administration through our Development Finance Corporation to increase immediate production now or as soon as possible. So the DFC, with partners, has invested in the Aspen plant in South Africa, enabling that plant to increase its production of the J&J vaccine, which, importantly, is being produced in Africa for Africa. There’s also been investment in India in a company that will be coming online with vaccines very soon.
But there’s also the long term and there’s also mRNA, and you will see that in the summit we made reference to the need for increased mRNA production around the world, and that’s going to be a focus of some work we do coming out of the summit to see what can be done, again, to expand production and to make effective vaccines available everywhere. So that’s an important initiative. It’s on the radar. It’s a short-term imperative, but it’s also a long-term that will, I think, be the focus of our work for some time to come.
Mr. Konyndyk: And the only thing I would add to that is, as Gayle said, we did commit at the summit to working to expand mRNA capability overseas, but there’s nothing magic about mRNA. I mean, there are multiple good vaccines against this virus, as we’re seeing. mRNA does have high efficacy; so do several of the others. And so the key thing is really to expand vaccine production capability generally speaking, including, over time, mRNA, and we’re working towards that. But there are some other – some of the other things that Gayle mentioned – the work that the DFC is doing can be stood up more rapidly. It’s not a quick process to introduce mRNA technology to a country or a company that’s never produced it before, and what we really need in this pandemic and what we really need over the next year is capacity that can be brought on very, very quickly. And so we’re pushing on a lot of fronts there, but I think the – it’s not just a sole focus on mRNA that will be the silver bullet that fixes this.
Moderator: Great, thank you very much. Our next question goes to Pearl Matibe with Power 98.7.
Question: Thank you very much. Good morning, Gayle and Jeremy. Thank you for doing this. First, I just want to ask if you could pass a huge thanks to our State Department and USAID colleagues and foreign mission staff for providing the hundreds of images of dose consignments received in country.
Question: How many and which countries in Africa have vaccinated 10 percent of their population? And what updates, if any, do you have about dose manufacturing output from South Africa? And how might you help Africa with its new goal of vaccinating 40 percent of the continent, which I believe the original 10 percent ends today, actually, I believe? So if you can share something on that, thanks.
Ms. Smith: Sure, I’ll say something up top, and then let me kick it to Jeremy. I think – and Pearl, I think you’ve joined us before, so you may have heard me say this before. But I think a really important thing in terms of Africa’s handling of the pandemic has been the commitment of its political leadership translated into the work of a lot of individuals on behalf of the AU to say that Africa wants to meet a significant portion of its goals on its own and expects its partners around the world to complement that to get to the target.
And part of that has been Africa buying its own vaccines through the AU, hundreds of millions of J&J doses, and now having this Aspen plant in South Africa producing at greater scale for the continent means, I think, that the volume of those vaccines will be more readily available and, frankly, easier to move. And I think there’s a lot of justice, quite frankly, in the fact that these are vaccines being produced in Africa for Africa.
In terms of coverage, we’re working to increase that coverage – and I’ll turn it over to Jeremy here but just with a short comment – by very closely coordinating what we are sharing with what COVAX is doing, with what the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Trust is doing, so that we are working together to roll out doses in a predictable fashion and get the numbers up. Jeremy can speak more to the specifics on where countries are and some of the other things we’re doing to try to get those numbers up.
Mr. Konyndyk: Thanks, Gayle. Yeah, and Pearl, as I’m sure you’re aware, there’s a really wide – there’s a fairly wide spread in terms of the levels of vaccination in different parts of the continent. Some parts of North Africa are doing reasonably well. Morocco has fully vaccinated 50 percent of its population. Sub-Saharan Africa is much further behind. I think South Africa is doing one of the best with about 14 percent fully vaccinated and another 6 percent with their first dose, but then Kenya is – Kenya is not even to 2 percent fully vaccinated. And South Sudan and some of the countries with weaker health systems are even further back than that.
Overall, the continent is at about 4.4 percent fully vaccinated, so there is a lot of work to do, and that’s why we’re pushing so hard through this summit to generate more supply and to accelerate it and to simultaneously ramp up the support we’re providing to countries to take those doses and actually turn those into vaccinations. And with the distribution that we’re now doing of Pfizer doses in partnership with COVAX and with the African Union, we are just working country by country to get countries ready to receive the Pfizer vaccine, which has some special requirements that are a little more onerous than some of the other vaccines do, but which is a very high-quality product and is available now at large and growing scale. And so we are working closely with countries through our USAID missions, through our embassies, through our multilateral partners like UNICEF and WHO and Gavi, to support country readiness, to put in place the cold chain, to ensure they have access to things like syringes – special syringes, and that they have the training and the technical know-how to effectively administer these vaccines.
Moderator: Great, thank you very much. Our next question comes to us from Daria Ryazhskikh with TASS in Russia. Her question is: “It was announced earlier that starting from November, non-citizens visiting the United States will have to show proof of vaccination upon boarding the plane, while the Washington Post reported that, according to the new rules, only the FDA – or only FDA- or WHO-approved vaccines will be counted, so people who have received two doses of Russia’s Sputnik V will not be able to come to the U.S. Can confirm this information? If this information is accurate, could you please clarify whether you would reconsider your decision with respect to Sputnik V after its approval by WHO?”
Ms. Smith: Yes, there has been a decision that there will be a requirement for vaccines entering the country. This is not something, respectfully, that either Jeremy nor I has the lead on. What I would do is refer you to travel.state.gov, which has more information on the specifics. And this will begin in early November, so what we can also do is make sure we get you more information by then.
I will say as a general matter when we look at vaccinating the world and our own work in the global response, I think that WHO authorization has been a very, very important factor for us simply because – and it’s not a judgment on any vaccine – it’s the fact-based, scientific way to determine and understand safety and efficacy. So those are things that are very important, I think, to all of us.
Moderator: Great, thank you very much for that. We have a question from Vietnam from Dat Duong Quoc with Zing News. He asks: “Of the millions of doses the U.S. will share with the world, how many doses will be sent to Vietnam? And will it be sent directly or through COVAX?”
Mr. Konyndyk: I’ll take that one. So the doses of what will now be a billion doses of Pfizer with the announcement from the President the other week, those are being delivered through COVAX. So we have an agreement between the U.S. Government, Pfizer, and Gavi to – for the U.S. to finance those and COVAX to deliver those through its platform.
In terms of the specific number that will be sent to Vietnam, we can’t give an exact figure now because the targeting of those is a little bit dynamic based on what other sources of supply countries have and are able to obtain and what we’re seeing in terms of the balance of needs. And what we’re doing with the initial allocations is trying to ensure that countries that are ready to receive Pfizer and capable of receiving Pfizer are kind of the first in line because they can move the doses quickly. Those who need more help, we will be supplying more as their capacity to receive it grows.
And over time we are delivering these doses on these two contracts through probably the end of next summer, and so it’s really hard to project over that full time period where kind of any individual country will shake out. We’re kind of working it out and making adjustments as we go along, depending on how the pandemic evolves.
Moderator: Great, thank you very much. I think we have time for maybe one or two questions. We’ll see. This might the last one, depending. We have a question here from Carmen Paun with Politico: “Why is the U.S. only buying Pfizer vaccines for donation and not also Moderna and Johnson & Johnson?”
Ms. Smith: Yeah, I can answer that, and it’s a good question. Our aim has been to be able to secure vaccines at scale and as quickly as possible, and the team responsible for this has engaged and regularly engages all the manufacturers. Pfizer is the most able to produce at scale and at the speed that we actually urgently need. We also think Pfizer is a great vaccine. But it’s primarily a function of who can deliver at bulk and the fastest.
Moderator: Great. Well, thank you very much to both of our speakers. That was, in fact, all the time we have for questions. I’d like to go back to our two speakers to see if they have any closing remarks for our reporters, starting with Coordinator Smith.
Ms. Smith: No, I would say watch this space and thank you for covering. Again, the next important international event, which is important and I think will be significant in and of itself but which we intend to use to continue driving this momentum, is the G20 summit at the end of next month, and then the Secretary of State will be convening his counterparts before the end of the year. We’ll be taking a look at where we are all – where we all stand and what we’re all doing against the targets that we put out, so we urge you to take a look at those also.
Thanks again for covering this and for your interest.
Moderator: Thank you. And Director Konyndyk.
Mr. Konyndyk: Thanks. Yeah, just building on what Gayle said, first, thanks for your interest and your reporting on this. It’s so incredibly important. And we – I would just emphasize that what we organized with the summit was a kickoff. It was the beginning of a process of accelerating and focusing the world’s efforts to end the pandemic. And we are now diving into the really hard work. Having defined a set of targets, we’re diving into the really hard work of beginning to mobilize and organize the commitments and the contributions that are going to be necessary to actually deliver on and ensure we can cover those targets. So that’s what lies ahead.
Moderator: I’d like to thank Coordinator Smith and Director Konyndyk for joining us today, and I’d like to thank all the reporters on the line for your participation and for your questions. Very shortly we will circulate an audio file of the briefing to all participating journalists, and we will provide a transcript as soon as it becomes available. We also love to hear your feedback. You can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub@state.gov. Thanks again for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another press briefing very soon. Thank you and goodbye. This concludes the call.