Moderator: Good afternoon from the U.S. State Department’s London Media Hub. I’d like to welcome our participants to today’s telephonic press briefing on the United States strategy for global vaccine sharing. Today we are very pleased to be joined by Gayle E. Smith, State Department Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security, and Jeremy Konyndyk, Executive Director of the USAID COVID-19 Task Force.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks, and then we will turn to your questions. We will do our best to get to as many as possible in the time we have, which is approximately [inaudible]. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I’ll turn it over first to Gayle Smith, then Jeremy Konyndyk for opening remarks. Please go ahead.
Ms. Smith: Thank you very much, and good morning, afternoon, and evening to everybody. Really appreciate your joining us. We wanted to talk today about the announcement we made yesterday of the first tranche of vaccine dose sharing. As we’ve announced via the President – and again, this is the first phase of a commitment to share 80 million doses – we announced that we will be deploying those vaccines with roughly 6 million to Latin America and the Caribbean, 7 million to South and Southeast Asia, 5 million in Africa, and 6 million for flexibility in cases where we see a surge or another emergency and we therefore need to deploy them.
Our aim in doing this is to set the stage for increased global coverage. In previous remarks by the President, he’s made clear America’s intention to lead on this and the urgency of getting global vaccine coverage and the work with partners to do so. We also want to prepare for surges and prioritize healthcare workers and other vulnerable populations; and finally, to help countries in need and our neighbors. So those are our aims.
A lot of work will have to be done to actually deliver the vaccines. There’s a number of steps we will go through. We’ve got teams ready to do that. So we will, as soon as possible, be moving those vaccines into countries. Again, this is only the beginning. We’re quite pleased to be doing this; this puts us in the lead in terms of international dose sharing, with the 80 million commitment. We are hopeful and increasingly confident that other countries will also be sharing more doses. And with this and the other steps we’re taking on the vaccine supply front, we can get in a position to actually end this global pandemic.
Let me stop there and turn to my colleague, Jeremy, because we’re eager to take your questions.
Mr. Konyndyk: Thanks, Gayle, and good morning, afternoon, and evening, everyone. Just a bit more on both this and what we’re doing and USAID’s role. So I lead the team at USAID that is organizing our capability across the agency to fight and ultimately end the pandemic. And so the vaccine sharing is part of an important larger effort that we’re also doing. So while we are now initiating the sharing, as the President has announced and Gayle has described, we are also – this is taking place in the context of a larger U.S. effort, both on vaccines and on other tools that we’re also using to fight the pandemic.
So we have given, so far, $2 billion to Gavi for the COVAX Initiative, the COVAX platform, which is facilitating equitable distribution of vaccines around the world. The vaccine donations that we announced yesterday are going to play an important role in helping Gavi to manage some of the supply gaps that it has been facing due to tight global supply of vaccines. We see Gavi and the COVAX platform as really, really important partners in this vaccine effort, and their ability to do global distribution and the sort of logistics infrastructure, the legal and regulatory agreements that they have with countries around the world, are a huge asset, and they’ll be a critical partner for us in this. So we’re supporting them both with the doses that are being announced this – have been announced this week, but also with $2 billion that we contributed to them back in March, and additional future funding that will be – that we’ll be releasing to them over the coming year.
We’re also investing heavily in country readiness to distribute and administer vaccines, so earlier this year, the U.S. put $75 million into that across numerous countries. We will be putting considerably more money into that in the months ahead under – with some of the funding that USAID received under the American Rescue Plan. And then alongside all the vaccine work we’re doing, which is hugely, hugely important, we’re also keeping our eye on some of the more near-term needs in countries because we know that even in a best case scenario, it’s going to take quite a while to vaccinate the world.
And so while we are pushing very hard on that, and we’re taking a major step on that this week, we’re also doing things like providing support to countries that are in – experiencing dire surges of the virus. So we have been providing surge support over the past month to India and other countries in South Asia. We are also providing assistance to a wider range of countries, whether or not they’re experiencing surges, to enhance their readiness to manage what they may be facing in the next year while the vaccine reaches a larger global scale.
So I’ll stop there, and very pleased to take your questions. Thank you.
Moderator: All right. Thank you very much for that. With that, we will now turn to questions and answers. Our first question comes from Prabha Raghavan of the Indian Express. Please go ahead.
Question: Yes. Hello? Am I audible?
Question: Great. So my question is directed to Gayle. I wanted to understand how many of the total doses allocated to Asia and regional priorities and partner recipients were – are expected to go to India. And which vaccines will be provided as part of this? And if they’re commercial in nature, if the allocation is commercial in nature, what would be the price that India can expect to receive these doses at?
Ms. Smith: Sure. Good questions. And let me take the last one first. These are not commercial. These are donations. So there is no [inaudible] country. The second: In terms of the actual number of doses, we’ve done some notional planning, but the refinement of the actual dose numbers will be determined in consultation with the governments and their health experts, the state of their vaccine plans and delivery, and with COVAX. So we want to be careful about putting a number out there yet because we want to work all of those pieces to make sure we’ve got the numbers right. But I think they will be substantial numbers, let me say that.
On the type of vaccine, these are vaccines that come from the U.S. supply. So there will be different types of vaccines. And one of the things that we will be doing is trying to match vaccines, quite frankly, to vaccine programs where we can. So that’s part of the operational work that we are about to undertake in partnership with countries and COVAX.
Moderator: Great. Our next question comes from Rafael Mathus of La Nacion. Please go ahead.
Question: Yes. Thank you very much for doing this and for taking my questions. Regarding the donation to Latin America, will it be possible for countries who have not yet approved the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to exchange those vaccines with AstraZeneca vaccines through the COVAX mechanism? Thanks.
Ms. Smith: A good question. One of the things that has to unfold in this is that, as I think your question suggests, countries need to have the appropriate regulatory and approval processes in place for the type of vaccine in question. We do not at present have AstraZeneca doses to share. We will have them. There’s a $60 million AstraZeneca donation we’ve announced by the President. We’re waiting for the FDA to clear those to ensure full safety. For the time being, that would not be possible. But as I said earlier to the last questioner, one of the things we intend to do in consultation with COVAX and countries is do our best to match vaccines to where they can be the most effectively deployed.
Moderator: All right. Our next question comes from Pearl Matibe of Power FM 98.7 in South Africa. Please go ahead.
Question: Thank you very much, Gayle and Jeremy. I really appreciate you guys doing this today. My question is really directed at both of you, the first part to Gayle and then the second part, more broadly, to Jeremy. South Africa is the worst-hit country on the continent of Africa. And after announcing a third wave in the last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa said COVID-19 is “re-surging again.” On the quota doses you plan to share directly with countries in need, those experiencing surges and immediate neighbors, South Africa’s neighbors, with whom it has high cross-border traffic, like Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe are some examples, will you share directly with South Africa? And have you received a request from South Africa for vaccines or immediate assistance? And Gayle, I know you spoke a little bit about eventual actual dosage numbers. Can you keep us posted on eventual numbers timely at some point so that we’re updated? We try to hold the United States and President Biden to account as well.
To Jeremy –
Ms. Smith: Hello?
Moderator: I think we’ve lost her audio.
Ms. Smith: We hear you.
Ms. Smith: Should I wait to answer? Because I think she dropped off.
Question: Finally –
Moderator: Why don’t we go ahead and answer that first – oh, is she back? Okay.
Question: Okay. Sure. I was going to say, towards the end of last year, U.S. Africa Command purchased and donated a $1.4 million 40-bed field hospital and donated it to South Africa. Might you be thinking of doing more of that? Because the 5 million that you plan to give through African Union – I mean, in coordination with the African Union – is really a drop in the bucket for Africa. Maybe you can speak and share a little bit it more about what you might do and what you might extend in your plans with South Africa. Thank you so much.
Ms. Smith: Sure. No. Thanks for the question. I’ll do the first part and then hand it over to Jeremy. We are in regular contact with South Africa and well aware of two things, the first being, as you rightly describe, the intensity of the virus there and the several rounds that South Africa has been through, but also, quite frankly, South Africa’s leadership, and particularly, the president during his chairmanship of the AU in setting the stage for a continental plan, and a lot of the support through the supply platform you all have in the Africa CDC.
We are going to do our discussions in consultation with the AU and the Africa CDC on those allocations. South Africa is very much on our minds. And yet we can actually share dose allocations with the press once those are determined. That’s not a problem; as I say, we don’t have them yet. And the other thing I would say is that, again, this is the beginning. We will have additional doses to share, and our aim in this first tranche, at least one of them, is to lay the ground for global coverage since there’s so many countries in need. But we will certainly have more to say about South Africa and be happy to share dose levels with you once we actually have those.
And let me turn it over to Jeremy for other things we might do.
Mr. Konyndyk: Thanks, Gayle. And I would just underscore that the doses that were announced to be shared with Africa yesterday are really just the first step in the dose sharing that the U.S. will be doing. So that’s – the share of – a share of the initial 25 million that are being rolled out, that 25 million is a subset of the larger 80 million doses that the President has already committed that the U.S. will give, and we expect that dose sharing by the U.S. will go beyond that. So the doses that were announced for Africa, and for all the regions of the world, yesterday are really just the first step in what we’ll be doing on this, not the end of the – it’s not the end of the story.
But we are also – to your question about what else we’re doing, and particularly what we’re doing to provide support to health treatment, one of the things we’ve seen a lot treated is that when there is a major surge in cases, that can overwhelm a health system. And we experienced even a bit of that here in the United States, and in other countries, where it put enormous strain on our health system, the peaks in the surge here. And we know that other countries are at that risk, too.
So some of the work that we’ll be doing with the new funding that USAID is rolling out over the next few months with the new resources that we’ve received from Congress is focusing on helping countries to manage surges in the immediate term, both by providing support to things like diagnostics and risk communication so that they can help to better detect and manage transmission, but also putting support into the health systems, providing support in the form of personal protective equipment to protect health workers, facility diagnostics so that health facilities can properly diagnose COVID patients.
And we’ll be also – we’ll also be doing a significant expansion of our work to support oxygen. That’s been one of the major demands we’ve had on the surge in South Asia, every country, to ensure support with oxygen. And so we’re going to be working at some larger-scale solutions to improve the availability of medical oxygen in countries that may not always have a strong structure for that.
Moderator: All right. Our next question is from Paolo Barcelon of CNN Philippines. Please go ahead.
Question: Hi, Gayle and Jeremy. Can you hear me? Am I audible?
Ms. Smith: Yes.
Mr. Konyndyk: Yes, we can.
Question: All right. Okay. All right. Thank you very much. My first question will be: What are the considerations with regards to giving our vaccine doses to countries here in Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines? Because as of the moment, our country does not have enough cold chain facilities to handle the ultra-cold storage temperatures by the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines. Is the U.S. also going to provide support so that every country that you will be donating these vaccines will also enough logistics to support these vaccines? And what will you do on the side, as the second question, to boost vaccine confidence, not just in the Philippines but every part of the world? Thank you very much.
Ms. Smith: Yeah. Let me take the first part, and I think Jeremy and USAID are playing an extraordinary role on enabling vaccine programs to succeed in the ways you’ve described. The one thing I would say about the ability of countries to handle cold chain in different vaccines, that’s one of the things we’re working through now. We’ve got different kinds of vaccines available, and part of the exercise is making sure that the vaccines deployed to a different country – to a particular country are those that can actually be utilized. So that means taking into account things like cold chain capacity, depending on which vaccine, and so on. So that is going to be part of the operational process as we deploy these vaccines.
Let me – to your question on hesitancy and other parts of delivery, let me turn it over to Jeremy. Hello?
Mr. Konyndyk: Sorry, [inaudible], I was on mute. So as I mentioned earlier, we are providing a great deal of support to country readiness. We’re doing that in a few ways. So of the $4 billion total that the U.S. will be giving to COVAX, and we’ve given 2 billion of that so far, but of that total amount, 500 million will go to support country readiness because of, as you say, that not every country always has the facilities and the infrastructure to conduct a vaccination program on this scale.
And hesitancy is a real challenge. And so we believe strongly – well, we know strongly – that the vaccines that we’re distributing are safe, that they have gone through rigorous approval processes and people can be confident in using them. And that’s not true of every vaccine that’s out there, but it is true of these. And so we think it’s very important to reinforce that. So we will be providing support through our USAID mission to many, many countries, both on their logistical and operational readiness, their ability to do safety monitoring of the usage of vaccines in their country, but also to improve communication and outreach to build vaccine confidence among their populations.
And we have done this many times in many other countries, and this is something that USAID and partners like UNICEF and the World Health Organization along with Gavi, have done for many years. And I think if we can make the kind of progress we’ve made on eradicating polio in some of the very toughest and most remote places on the Earth, then I think we have the know-how to get this done as well.
Moderator: All right. Our next question comes from Reasey Poch of the Voice of America. Please go ahead.
Question: Thank you for the opportunity. Hi, Ms. Smith and Mr. Jeremy. My question is: Cambodia is among the Southeast Asian countries that have seen a surge recently, but yet Cambodia is not listed in the first batch of the vaccines, the [inaudible] vaccine. What is the rationale behind your consideration? Thank you.
Ms. Smith: Sure, let me take that question. And look, this was not an easy exercise. As you rightly suggest, there are many, many, many countries who are in urgent need of vaccines. What I would say is, again, this is only the beginning; this is the first round. We’ve got in excess of 60 million additional doses to deploy. So our intention is to get as much coverage as we can possibly get as the United States, as well we are looking with COVAX and with other countries that are in a position to share vaccines in the hopes that collectively, we can maximize coverage.
So two important points to recognize on this is, again, this is just the beginning and just the first phase of a much broader plan to donate vaccines.
Moderator: Our next question comes from Tenzing Lamsang of The Bhutanese. Please go ahead.
Question: Hello. My question is that the Bhutanese Government has placed a request for around half a million AstraZeneca doses around two months ago with the current U.S. administration, the reason being that by the end of this month, we will be completing the 12-week gap between the first dose and the second dose. So we are due for the second dose by the end of this month. And I understand that the first batch compromised of J&J, Astra – sorry, J&J, Pfizer, and Moderna. So I mean, but you have 50 million AstraZeneca doses – by when could the FDA give approval? And if you could also perhaps give an indication of how much doses could be sent to Bhutan given that our entire, so far, vaccination drive is in danger of going off-road?
Ms. Smith: Sure.
Question: Thank you.
Ms. Smith: Yours is a really important question. There are many countries who have been able to do, to some extent, the first shot in the vaccine series but don’t have the supplies to do the second shot. We’re well aware of that and AstraZeneca is key on that. As you rightly suggest, our ability to deploy those AZ vaccines depends on receiving clearance from the FDA. Now, the FDA, our Food and Drug Administration, is a regulatory public health agency [inaudible] that works, and one of the most important elements of any regulatory agency is that it has independence so that we cannot interfere. It needs to have the autonomy required to do all the studies it needs to do to make a determination. So we are hopeful we will get a clearance soon. We are not in a position to say when that will come true because that’s the purview of the FDA.
In terms of dose amounts, that is something that as we move forward with this, as I described, even in this first phase, is going to be worked out in consultation with a number of the parties and based on the type of vaccine.
Moderator: All right. We have time for two more questions. Jessica Ni of TVBS, Taiwan. Please go ahead.
Question: Hi, thank you for doing this. Can you hear me?
Ms. Smith: Yes.
Question: Okay. I think my question is really for Gayle. I just want to know what are the factors taken into account when deciding to share U.S. doses with Taiwan, because we know that there’s a spike in Taiwan recently, and also Taiwan is facing some challenges to procure the vaccines due to the political pressures and also our – the semiconductor supply chain is also considered part of the reason that – that the doses are shared with Taiwan. And also, you mentioned about the vaccine donation will be a continual effort. So in the future, countries will get the vaccines? I mean, with this [inaudible] the list will they get the vaccines they sent or it will be a separate consideration? Thank you.
Ms. Smith: On your last question, we’re going to take this as it comes – we will do continued rounds of dose sharing, and we will see how that turns out. There’s nothing that suggests that it’s going to have any formula at this point. And so obviously when we do the next round, we’ll be happy to brief you again.
In the case of Taiwan, as with all of the other countries we are starting with, our determinations are based on need and the urgency of the situation and where we think we can be the most effective. And I think an important consideration here is the President and the Secretary of State, all of us have made quite clear the vaccines that we are sharing now are in service of ending the pandemic. So we are not deploying them with the intent of trying to secure political favor or any other thing. We are committed and determined to do everything we can to actually end the pandemic, and that means getting as much vaccine coverage as we can everywhere in the world.
Moderator: All right. Our last question comes from Simon Ateba of Today News Africa. Please go ahead.
Question: Yes, thank you for doing this and thank you for taking my question. This is Simon Ateba with Today News Africa in Washington, D.C. I don’t know if you’ve answered this. On the vaccine allocation, the Biden administration announced yesterday that 5 million doses out of the first 25 million vaccine doses to be sent out will be going to African nations, and will be shared by the African Union. I would like you to speak a bit more about that. And are there any guidelines to the African nations in determining who gets what? And since the administration suggested that the fight against corruption is now a key component of the Biden agenda, is there a look anywhere of preventing corruption in vaccine distribution in Africa? Thank you.
Ms. Smith: Great questions, and Jeremy, maybe you can take the second one; I’ll take the first one. One of the things that, quite frankly, has been very impressive and encouraging to us has been that the African Union has developed a continent-wide vaccination plan, had a very well coordinated and quite effective response in the first waves of the pandemic, built its own supply chain. I mean, it has really set itself up for success. Obviously, we want to get those vaccination rates up, and we thought the best way to do this was to consult with the AU and the Africa CDC given the continental plan to see how we proceed in this first phase. And again, I would reiterate that’s it’s the federal view that this is the first phase. So we will have those consultations, also include COVAX in those, and then make decisions on this first round of allocation.
On your question on corruption and the effectiveness of vaccination programs, Jeremy, can I turn to you?
Mr. Konyndyk: Sure. Yeah. I think it is crucially important that any country that’s receiving these vaccines is distributing them in a way that is prioritized based on public health and on risk. And so one of the things that the COVAX consortium requires is that every country put together a national deployment and vaccination plan that will outline how it will be distributing and managing vaccines and how it will target those vaccines and have some monitoring capability in place to assess how that’s going. And one of the reasons why we are working through the – in part through the COVAX platform in the distribution of these [inaudible] that line through any consultation with our partners in the AU, is because those kinds of measures will be in place. So it provides more of an infrastructure for monitoring and accountability of how vaccines are being distributed at the country level. Thanks.
Moderator: Great. Thank you very much for that. Unfortunately, that was the last question that we have time for today. Would either speaker like to make closing remarks?
Ms. Smith: No, I would like to say thank you, and as a former reporter myself, thanks for your continued coverage of this story. Jeremy?
Mr. Konyndyk: Not too much to add. Just to say thank you for all the questions and this is the first step. There will be much more to come and we look forward to continuing to talk with you and your colleagues as we continue to expand U.S. efforts to fight the pandemic.
Moderator: And with that, we will end our call. I’d like to thank Gayle Smith and Jeremy Konyndyk for joining us today, and thank all the reporters on the line for your participation and questions. Thank you.