As variants surge, a global vaccination push

Boxes being loaded into cargo plane (U.S. Government)
Increased COVID-19 vaccinations will help tackle outbreaks happening around the world. Above, the U.S. delivers 33,600 pediatric COVID-19 vaccine doses to Bhutan July 10. (U.S. Government)

International partners are significantly increasing COVID-19 vaccinations globally, but say more progress is needed as new variants emerge.

Vaccination rates have nearly doubled in 92 low- and middle-income countries since late January, increasing from 28% to 48%. In those countries, 75% of health care workers have been vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines approved in the United States protect against severe illness and death, even from known variants, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced those latest successes at the virtual COVID-19 Global Action Plan (GAP) Foreign Ministerial Meeting July 19. The progress follows the United States’ and partners’ February launch of the GAP to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and strengthen global health security.

Must ‘remain steadfast’

While noting significant progress, Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, who co-hosted the ministerial, said more work is needed, given that emerging variants continue to drive up new COVID-19 cases in numerous countries.

“COVID-19 is far from over,” Hayashi said. “We need to remain steadfast in maintaining and accelerating our countermeasures and act globally with absolute determination to overcome this pandemic.”

COVAX label with Japanese flag on cooler (© Syed Mahamudur Rahman/NurPhoto/Getty Images)
Japan has played a critical role in the global fight against COVID-19, including delivering 245,200 Oxford-AstraZeneca doses to Bangladesh July 24, 2021. (© Syed Mahamudur Rahman/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Japan has committed $5 billion to the global COVID-19 response and improved distribution in part by providing cold-chain technologies to preserve vaccines in transport.

Hayashi announced Japan’s initial pledge of $10 million to a new pandemic preparedness and global health security financial intermediary fund established at the World Bank. Italy and Indonesia, in their respective G20 presidency roles, spearheaded creation of the fund to which the United States has pledged $450 million.

The ministerial convened more than 25 countries, the African Union, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank. Participants affirmed the need for coordinated international leadership to end the pandemic and strengthen global health security. They also discussed the need for equitable access to safe, effective, and affordable vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

Rising caseloads worrisome

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commended recent progress in increasing vaccinations and credited the GAP with securing political leadership to support the WHO’s goal of vaccinating 70% of the world against COVID-19. But Ghebreyesus also said rising cases in recent weeks show more must be done.

The GAP is supported by dozens of countries and seeks to get shots in arms and prevent future pandemics by strengthening supply chains, addressing information gaps, supporting health workers, improving access to treatments and bolstering sustainable financing for pandemic preparedness and response.

The United States, in partnership with COVAX, has already donated more than 575 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to other countries, part of a U.S. pledge to donate more than 1.2 billion vaccine doses to the world.

At the second COVID-19 summit that President Biden convened in May, leaders of numerous countries, the private sector and nongovernmental groups committed $3.2 billion to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments and invest in global health security.

“The health of our people is simply more secure when we’re” working together, Blinken told the July 19 ministerial. “And I think we’ve already demonstrated that in the months since the Global Action Plan took off.”