Moderator: Good evening, good afternoon, and good morning from the U.S. State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I’d like to welcome all participants to today’s telephonic 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. We will begin today’s call with opening remarks and then we will turn to your questions. We’ll do as best – our best to get to as many as possible in the time that we have today, which is approximately 30 minutes.
As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Coordinator Smith for her opening remarks. Please go ahead.
Ms. Smith: Thank you very much and good morning, afternoon, evening to everybody, and thanks so much for joining us. I’d like to just briefly lay out the United States response to the pandemic, starting with the announcement by the President earlier this week that we will be sharing 20 million vaccine doses from our own stocks in addition to the 60 million AstraZeneca doses that were announced previously by the President. So that means we’re going to be putting 80 million additional vaccines into the mix, making us the largest sharer of vaccines thus far.
Now, that’s only one part of our strategy on vaccines. I think as we all know, supply is a very big issue and we need many more vaccines for countries all over the world. To that end, we’re working with producers on increasing the supply, and also on the supply chains. The component parts that make up a vaccine are in shortage in some cases, so we’re working to increase that production so that, again, supply can increase.
Another way that we’re working to increase supply is through our Development Finance Corporation, or DFC, to make investments in manufacturing sites around the world that, with an injection of capital, can increase supply over the short and medium term.
The vaccine strategy is part of a broader strategy for the United States. As you know, it’s critical to ensure that there is both vaccine uptake, but also that diagnostics – importantly, testing – therapeutics, and other supplies are available. We are pushing out over a billion dollars, increasing our support for that effort, and at the same time providing humanitarian assistance not only for countries where we’re seeing a surge, but more broadly, to people all over the world who have felt the impacts of this pandemic on their economic livelihoods, their wellbeing, and their health.
Finally, we’re well aware of the systemic impacts of the pandemic, and particularly on low- and low-middle-income countries. To that end, as you know, our Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen called for a new issuance of special drawing rights. This garnered the support of the international community. That whole process in now under discussion, and so that’s something that will be available later this year and we hope will help mitigate some of the economic impacts of the pandemic.
We intend, in leading this effort, to work closely with allies. As the President said the day before yesterday, we can do a great deal, we can be in the front, we can do the most, but we cannot do it alone. And if we’re going to get to scale, working with partners is absolutely critical. We’re in close contact with our G7 partners, the EU, and others to see how, together, including leading up to the G7 Summit which will be held in the UK next month, to get to the scale that is needed to bring this pandemic under control so that everybody everywhere can bring their lives back to order.
With that, I will stop and happily take your questions. Thanks so much for listening.
Moderator: Thank you for those remarks. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.
Our first question comes to us from Jasper Ward with The Guardian in the Bahamas. Please go ahead, Jasper.
Question: Good morning, Ms. Gayle. My question is: On Friday, members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as Florida Senator Rick Scott wrote to President Joe Biden to encourage him to develop a strategy to address the severe COVID-19 crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean to prioritize vaccine access for developing countries in this region. They strongly encouraged the President to consider offering vaccines to Caribbean countries, including the Bahamas, which is just 50 miles away from Florida. Can you indicate whether any Caribbean countries, namely the Bahamas, are among the countries being considered for the 60 million doses of AstraZeneca or the 20 million doses of the U.S.-approved vaccines?
Ms. Smith: Sure, and that’s a great question. And in fact, we do have a strategy, which I just laid out, and the situation across the CARICOM countries and in Latin America has been front of mind, I think, for the United States given that this is, indeed, in our hemisphere. We are looking at all regions given the constraints in vaccine supply literally everywhere, and we have not made final decisions, but I can tell you that we are looking closely at every region and that we are well aware of and I’ve had the honor of meeting with several representatives of CARICOM about this as well as Latin American countries, of the acute needs, in fact, on or near our borders.
Moderator: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Sofia Tomacruz with Rappler in the Philippines. Please go ahead.
Question: Hi, thank you for the briefing. On the earlier announcement made this week, I was just interested to know if – how exactly stocking and distribution is going to be prioritized, if there was some sort of criteria that’s already been finalized for allocation. And I’m also curious about the six-week timeframe and how that was mapped out.
Ms. Smith: Sure. A couple of things on that. And one thing that we are counting on, and I think we will see, is that with the United States stepping out, I think fairly boldly, with 80 million doses on sharing, that we’re going to see other countries stepping up and either beginning to share or increasing the number of doses that they share. So our intention is that we will see more than 80 million as we work with other countries.
The way we’re looking at this is to look at, again, every region, and I think the facts are that every region in the world is facing constraints. We’re looking at need, other supplies. We’re looking at how we can get maximum coverage, because I think as all of you would agree, the demand exists everywhere. So those are the number of factors we’re taking into account. We’re consulting closely with COVAX, which, as you know, is the largest vaccine delivery platform in the world and that is focused on, in particular, low-income and low-middle-income countries, and with our partners in order to initiate a process where we start to get the global coverage we need.
The time period that was referenced has to do with the need to actually have those vaccines in hand, figure out the distribution, but also because on the AstraZeneca 60 million doses, we need FDA clearance before those move in order to ensure that they are fully safe.
Moderator: Thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Sriram Lakshman with The Hindu in India. Please go ahead.
Question: Thanks very much for doing this. I’m aware you said your – there’s – you’re not, yeah, prepared to release a plan on how these vaccines are going to be shared, but can you give us a sense, a qualitative sense at least, of how many of these 80 million vaccines will go to India? And the second question is: The Quad is planning to produce at least 1 billion vaccines by the end of 2022 for the Asia and Pacific region. There’s going to be a collaboration between Johnson & Johnson and Biological E in India for this. Will any of these vaccines actually stay in India and be used by India, or is it going to be just for the rest of Asia?
Ms. Smith: Good questions. I can’t tell you at this point what the allocation is going to be per country. We will have information for you later on. And as I think I mentioned, we are also, with respect to India and also India’s neighbors, mounting an emergency humanitarian response given the surges that are ongoing there.
On the Quad production, given the timeline for that production, I think its dispensation will depend to a great extent on the state of play around the world with vaccine coverage. That timeline is fairly extended, so I think while in principle those doses are available for internal use but also for export to the rest of the world, I think the final allocation or plan for that will depend on what conditions we’re facing at the time they’re available.
Moderator: Thank you so much for that. Our next question comes to us from Issam Ahmed with AFP in France. Please go ahead.
Question: Yeah, hi. Thanks for doing this. Of the 80, do we know the way that it’s going to be allocated, the proportion to COVAX and the proportion to other partners, and who are these other partners? Are they other countries? And if you are looking at giving some outside of COVAX, doesn’t that sort of defeat the whole purpose of COVAX, prioritizing where need is greatest, and go against what you – what Andy Slavitt has already said: you won’t engage in vaccine diplomacy?
Ms. Smith: Good questions. We are very strong supporters of COVAX. The President made a $2 billion contribution shortly after taking office, which puts us out front as the primary donor. We are in very close touch with them on a regular basis, coordinating with them. And of course we look at COVAX as an absolutely critical and the central platform for allocation. Again, we’ll have more to say on that when we’ve made the final decisions on allocation.
But our view with respect to vaccine diplomacy – and I think the really important point here – is that vaccines are tools for public health. They are the means for bringing this pandemic to an end. We do not see them and do not intend to use them as means for influence or pressure, and our decisions will be made on the basis of need, public health data, and again, collaboration with key partners, absolutely including COVAX.
Moderator: Thank you so much for that. Our next question comes to us from Michel Ghandour with Alhurra TV. Please go ahead, Michel.
Question: Yeah, hello. Thank you for doing this. Since you’re talking about COVAX, are you confident that COVAX will distribute the vaccine fairly to the world after the WHO experience with China regarding finding the coronavirus origin? And my second question is: The administration has supported a proposal about lifting certain protections for coronavirus vaccines. Was there any decision in this regard?
Ms. Smith: On COVAX and being fair, yes, we’re confident that COVAX is undertaking a fair science- and data-based allocation of vaccines. And importantly, we’re working with them to make sure that they can increase their own supply in order to meet critical targets. So we have great confidence in that.
I think your second question refers to the administration’s position on a temporary lifting of the TRIPS waiver. Our view on that, as our U.S. Trade Representative has said, is that we’re facing a once-in-a-lifetime, indeed once-in-a-century, extraordinary event, and we’ve got to look at every single option on the table. So a temporary lifting of the TRIPS waiver is key. Now, that’s not going to yield the vaccines immediately, in a few weeks. What happens now is the WTO, which is a consensus-based organization, enters into text negotiations. But again, the U.S. Trade Representative, speaking for the administration, notes that given the urgency of this moment, this is one of the options that absolutely has to be pursued.
Moderator: Thank you so much for that. Our next question comes to us from Raquel Krahenbuhl with Globo Global in Brazil. Please go ahead.
Question: Hi. Thank you so much, Ms. Gayle, for this opportunity. Good morning, everybody. I have two questions. Some have expressed concern. The WHO is very concerned with the vaccine inequality and said this week that rich countries should not vaccinate children and teenagers, and instead sharing these vaccines with poor countries. Is 80 million doses enough to share with the world? Could the U.S. be doing more? And about Brazil, did Brazil request these vaccines? Are there conversations with Brazil about sharing vaccines with them?
Ms. Smith: Sure. Thank you for the questions. I think the President believes that we can do two things at once, that he can honor his commitment and obligation to the American people by bringing the pandemic under control in this country – which, by the way, he’s done a superb job of thus far – but also address the massive gaps in global vaccine coverage. 80 million is a start. Again, our experience is that in consultation with other countries, we believe that there will now be more dose-sharing from around the world. As our supplies are delivered, we will look as and when we can share additional doses. But this is very much an effort, and again, combined with increasing supply, dealing with the challenges in the supply chain for the actual production of vaccines, and investing in the capacity to produce fairly rapidly in multiple parts of the world. This is our commitment and the actions that we are pursuing to make sure that we can close those vaccine gaps. And again, I would just underscore that the United States intends to lead here, but to lead with partners, because the scale that is demanded is going to require all of us, and we certainly can’t do it alone.
As to whether Brazil has requested vaccines, frankly, in my experience in this position, I have heard from every region in the world given the – again, the demand for and the need for vaccines everywhere. So yeah, I would just leave it at that. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Our next question comes to us from Simon Ateba with Today News Africa in the U.S. Please go ahead, Simon.
Question: Yeah, thank you for taking my question. This is Simon Ateba with Today News Africa in Washington, D.C. And I don’t know if you’ve answered this question because I’m just joining, about the allocation. How many of these doses will be going to African countries? And also, I understand that this is already the biggest vaccine donation by any country in the world, but the DG of the WHO said on Monday that COVAX will have a shortage of 190 million doses of the vaccine by the end of June. Is there anything else that the U.S. intends to do to bridge that gap? Thank you.
Ms. Smith: Sure. Good questions. And you did miss something where I said that we have not made the decisions on allocations yet. We’ll have that information for you sometime in the near term. What we are doing is looking at every region in the world, and we are well aware of the extremely low vaccine coverage on the African continent.
Remind me again of your second question.
Moderator: I think we might have closed his line. Yeah, sorry about that.
Ms. Smith: Oh, I can – I recall it now.
Moderator: We’ll see if we can get him in an email.
Ms. Smith: Your second question – yeah, let me – your second question – I apologize – was that Dr. Tedros has spoken about the acute shortage for COVAX between now and June. Look, our commitment on dose-sharing is, we think, a very bold one but we are not suggesting that this is going to solve all the problems. So, again, our work on the supply side, also our work with partners, is all aimed at doing as much as we can as quickly as we can to start to close those gaps. And we share the concern about the shortfalls for COVAX, which is why we are also working with other countries and encouraging many other countries to put much more financing on the table for COVAX. Again, we’ve put $2 billion in just in the last couple of months, and while COVAX has many generous donors, we think that other donors need to step up more so that it’s got the full financing it needs to also close those gaps.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Our next question comes to us from Liu Tingting with TVBS in Taiwan. Please go ahead.
Question: Good morning, Gayle. This is Tingting with TVBS News from Taipei, Taiwan. Taiwan is now experiencing a surge in COVID cases, but, unfortunately, we have insufficient vaccines. So with President Biden’s plan abroad, I know you mentioned a whole list of countries even [inaudible], but will Taiwan be included if it’s given that there is no diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Taiwan? So, if so, how many vaccines do you think that the States can allocate to Taiwan, and when could we expect them to arrive by? Thank you.
Ms. Smith: Thanks for the question. And again – and I know this is obviously a question on all of your minds – we haven’t made decisions on allocations yet. We are looking literally all over the globe, again, with partners and with COVAX, to see what the most effective allocation of these doses will be. And again, it’s our hope and intention that what we are kicking off here is a robust process from the international community to share more doses and increase the supply so that we can get coverage in all the places that it’s needed. But, unfortunately, I don’t have answers for you right now on the actual allocation.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Our next question comes to us from Nayanima Basu with The Print in India. Please go ahead.
Question: Hello. Thank you for taking my question. I’m Nayanima Basu from The Print. I just wanted to understand, I know you are not giving out the allocations, but there was this conversation that happened between President Biden and Prime Minister Modi where it seemed as if, you know, we’ll be getting plenty 20 million doses of the vaccines. Is that still on-track? And also, on the TRIPS waiver, is there thinking going on that the U.S. might also support the TRIPS waiver not just on the vaccines but on other COVID-related items as well? Thank you so much.
Ms. Smith: Yeah, thanks. Let me take your second question first. I think on the TRIPS waiver, you should just go for the moment with what the U.S. Trade Representative has said with respect to our position. On India, as you know, from the President on down, given the surge there, India has been a major priority for us. We’ve delivered $100 million in emergency assistance; mobilized with the American private sector a pretty amazing response, again, from the American private sector and public, and we’ll continue to do so. Again, and I apologize, I don’t have anything to say yet on the ultimate allocations, but we will reach out and make sure you all are informed when those decisions are made.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Our next question goes to Jillian Deutsch with POLITICO in Brussels. Please go ahead.
Question: Hi. Thanks so much for taking my question. You were saying that you believe that there has been more dose-sharing around the world, and I was wondering if you could elaborate on any talks with the European Union and the United Kingdom about having them donate doses. I also was wondering if there are any talks still between the U.S. and the EU to have any of these AstraZeneca doses or drug substance sent to the EU as the U.S. manufacturer has done so previously. And lastly, if you let me, you also mentioned that other countries need to step up their financing for COVAX, and I was curious if that is a targeted message to the EU or to the UK. Thank you.
Ms. Smith: Sure. Look, our experience – and I think the product of our discussions with a number of countries and bodies like the EU – is that there is a recognition of the importance of dose-sharing, a desire to increase dose-sharing. For many countries, the timing and volume of that is dependent to some extent on their own domestic vaccine coverage. And I don’t want to speak for any other country in terms of their intentions. What I can tell you is that I think there is a broad consensus that vaccine-sharing and dose-sharing needs to be part of our collective strategy to increase the supply and allocations around the world.
With respect to funding for COVAX, I do want to say about the EU and about many countries in Europe that, in fact, the creation of COVAX and what was done last year to set up something called ACT-A, the ACT Accelerator, is something we’re very grateful for and everyone should be proud of. We were proud to join ACT-A under this administration shortly after President Biden took office. We think – look, and we understand that budgets are under pressure – that all of us need to do everything we can on multiple fronts, including the financial front, to make sure that all bases are covered: supply, financing for COVAX, dose-sharing. We’ve got to fill these gaps as quickly as possible. So it is our hope and the discussions we’re having with many countries is that together we can see that increased funding for COVAX that’s urgently needed.
Moderator: Thank you very much. I think we have time for about two more questions. The first will go to Le Quang Tue in Vietnam. Please go ahead.
Question: Yeah, thank you for doing this. Can you hear me?
Ms. Smith: Yeah.
Question: Yeah. Well, I’m from Zing News, Vietnam. And can you give us a brief assessment of the current surge in Southeast Asian region? And what is your prediction for the next few weeks and what kind of support is the U.S. ready to give to the region? And also I have one particular question: Is there any talks between the U.S. and Vietnam on giving out or selling the vaccine doses to Vietnam? Thank you so much.
Ms. Smith: You are so welcome. On the question of surges, I would be very careful to predict. What I do know – and I have worked on this pandemic, the Ebola epidemic, H1N1, HIV and AIDS, so I’ve tackled a few viruses in my lifetime – what we know is that a virus, where it has the opportunity to replicate and mutate, becomes extremely dangerous, which is why some of the very difficult but important public health measures are so critically important. What we anticipate at the general level is that we will likely see upticks and surges in various parts of the world over time. And what we’re trying to do about that, in addition to what we’ve discussed here about the vaccine supply side, is to also work with countries and partners so that countries have in place the preparation that is needed. For example, I think as we all know, when there is a surge, there is enormous pressure on the healthcare system. So our U.S. Agency for International Development is working with partners to see what we can do on that front so we’re prepared for what may be coming.
With respect to particular discussions with Vietnam, again, I will share with you what I have said to someone else who asked a similar question. Between myself, other officials working on this, departments and agencies across the U.S. Government, I believe we have heard from probably most countries and certainly every region about their specific needs.
Moderator: Great. Thank you very much. And our final question for the call will go to Francesco Guarascio with Reuters in Belgium.
Question: Hi. Thank you. Thank you. I have three very short questions. First is: The vaccine you intend to donate will be donated exclusively to COVAX, and if not, why not? Then about the funding: You are saying that you are discussing with other partners to increase funding for COVAX. What about you? I mean, you have donated the 2 billion, but the ACT Accelerator is asking 10 billion from the U.S. based on the economic power of the U.S. So you are still very short from the target. Are you planning to increase your own financing to COVAX and the ACT Accelerator? And then third question: The patent waiver thing is very controversial and is unlikely to be successful in the short term, but what about patent-pooling, which is less radical and could be accepted and could also increase more quickly production in Africa and everywhere else in the world? Are you considering patent-pooling as an option? Thanks.
Ms. Smith: Thanks. All good questions. On COVAX, again, let me underscore: We are both a – the major financial contributor to COVAX and a partner with COVAX. We are a very strong supporter. We intend that the allocation of the vaccines will include, obviously, a substantial portion through COVAX, but we have not made final decisions. So that’s your answer there.
On ACT-A, certainly ACT-A needs additional funding. We have been working with them on that. We have an additional $2 billion for COVAX that we have discussed with them. We are putting an initial 1.5 billion additional into the global fund, which is part of ACT-A. There are additional billions behind that. So while I think when ACT-A does the calculus and says the United States needs to do more, we are literally putting billions in and have more billions on the line. So I think we’re doing a pretty good job there. I think from our point of view, we will continue to do more, as I’ve just outlined. We also need other countries to continue to do more.
On TRIPS and patent-pooling, patent-pooling is something that has been out there for a long time. I’d refer the specific question to USTR for you on that in this specific case.
Moderator: Thank you very much for that. Unfortunately, that was the last question we have time for today. Coordinator Smith, do you have any closing words you’d like to offer?
Ms. Smith: No, I – well, I’d like to thank all of you for joining. I would remind you that this is not a response that’s fixed in time. We are working on this literally 24/7 across departments and agencies in the U.S. Government and with our partners. We look forward to the G7 Summit as an opportunity for countries to join together to show and to demonstrate our commitment to ending this pandemic. And thank you all – I say this as a former journalist myself – thank you all for covering this issue. Your words, your coverage is really critically important. So thank you for that and thank you for joining us.
Moderator: I’d like to thank Coordinator Smith for joining us and thank all the reporters on the line for your participation and for your questions.