SECRETARY BLINKEN: Mary Beth, thank you very much, and good morning, good afternoon, good evening. It’s great to see so many friends and colleagues on the screen today. Thank you so much for joining the fourth and actually final COVID-19 Global Action Plan Ministerial meeting.
So we created this campaign almost exactly a year ago, with a pandemic disrupting the lives and livelihoods of virtually everyone on our planet. We came together appreciating that foreign ministries and multilateral institutions have a critical role to play in coordinating and prioritizing this challenge across borders and across bureaucracies, because we know that a pandemic is not just a health crisis – it’s a security crisis; it’s an economic crisis; it’s a humanitarian crisis. Health security is national security.
We launched the Global Action Plan as an intensive 12-month effort – mobilizing over 33 countries as well as the European Union, the African Union, the World Health Organization – to help lead the world out of the acute phase of COVID-19. And thanks to the work of so many of you, along with NGOs, the private sector, our health and frontline workers, we’ve made significant headway.
We know the pandemic is not over, but we have reached what the WHO considers a transition point. While COVID will be with us for the foreseeable future, we have dramatically reduced global deaths and severe illness. We’ve managed the effects of COVID through increasingly available vaccines and treatments, and we’re figuring out how to apply lessons from this pandemic to enhance health security going forward.
Across all six lines of effort that we laid out a year ago, our progress has been impressive and, in some cases, remarkable. First and foremost, this group has helped get shots into arms, with nearly 64 percent of people around the world having completed their first two doses. Greater coordination through GAP has also strengthened supply chains and improved distribution to some of the most remote corners of the world – whether shipping supplies like syringes where they’re desperately needed, or inventing new cold chain storage solutions, as Japan so innovatively did. We combatted misinformation and disinformation, hosting local information sessions to address misperceptions and help skeptical communities appreciate that vaccines are safe and beneficial. GAP has also taken steps to support health workers on the frontlines, from providing personal protective equipment to getting those workers vaccinated.
Today, nearly 90 percent of health workers around the world are fully vaccinated, and greater protection for our health workers means that they’re able to better care for others. We’re also strengthening testing and treatment to ensure that those at the highest risk can get tested as soon as they develop symptoms and rapidly receive medication and care if needed. That includes partnering with the private sector in places like South Africa to make medical oxygen more affordable.
Finally, we’re working to strengthen global health security. That means improving our collective early warning systems for detecting diseases, speeding up production and distribution of vaccines, PPE, and tests. It means negotiating a pandemic accord with other WHO members, as well as boosting financing for preparedness like with the new pandemic fund that the World Bank and the WHO are putting together. The United States has already pledged $450 million to that fund, and we’ll be looking to other nations, including many of you, for your contributions and your leadership.
Taken together, we’re building a world better prepared to prevent, detect, and respond to the next pandemic, and to do so quickly, effectively, and equitably, because an equitable approach is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.
Despite all of this progress, we know that real challenges remain. Too many older and immunocompromised people are not getting vaccines or antiviral treatments, and new variants an unanticipated obstacles could of course set us back. The world cannot succumb to the cycle of panic and neglect that we saw with Ebola in 2014 and Zika in 2016. We like to say that this time is different. Now, we actually have to prove it.
In the long term, we need to institutionalize the role that foreign ministries played in the COVID response and apply it to our continued efforts to strengthen health security. The pandemic underscored that we have to confront these shared challenges together. GAP showed that we are capable of doing that. Now, I think it’s on us to try to maintain the momentum to safeguard the health of our people, to save lives.
As we open today’s discussion, I simply want to say this: Thank you. Thank you to all of you for your engagement – and especially the countries that have served as ministerial cohosts: Japan, Bangladesh, Botswana, and Spain. And now I look forward to hearing from everyone else. Thanks so much.
Mary Beth, back to you.