Since the United States recorded its first COVID-19 death in February 2020, more than 550,000 Americans have died in the pandemic. More than 30 million Americans have been infected. Millions of Americans lost loved ones, often without having the chance to say goodbye.
No one has been immune to the virus. It’s hit people of color especially hard, devastating communities and deepening our country’s racial and economic divides.
And COVID-19’s massive health and death toll has been matched by its economic and social consequences. Restaurants, bars, movie theaters closed, many permanently. Millions of kids stayed home from school, losing precious classroom time. And millions of women dropped out of the workforce to care for children or aging parents.
For all of these reasons, stopping COVID-19 is the Biden-Harris administration’s number one priority. Otherwise, the coronavirus will keep circulating in our communities, threatening people’s lives and livelihoods, holding our economy back. We cannot fully recover – much less build the better future the American people deserve – until the pandemic is over.
From day one, the administration has led a full-court press to get as many Americans vaccinated as fast as possible. President Biden set a goal of 100 million shots in 100 days. We hit that goal by day 58. Now we’re racing toward our new goal of 200 million shots in 100 days. The administration is moving quickly to open new vaccination sites across the country, so that 90 percent of Americans will be living within five miles of one by April 19. That’s two weeks from today.
All the while, we’ve been producing vaccines at a rapid clip. By the end of May, we’ll have enough vaccine supply for all adults in America. And so far, the news about the efficacy of the vaccines has been very reassuring.
The American people can take hope and pride in the fact that we’re making strong progress against the virus at home. It’s a credit to our health workers, our scientists, our government.
Still, we’re not at the finish line yet. We can’t afford to ease up. This is the time for Americans to keep wearing masks and social distancing – and to get vaccinated when it’s your turn. Do it for yourselves, your families, your neighbors, and for the people you might never meet but whose lives you might save through your actions.
There’s another major element to stopping COVID, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today.
This pandemic won’t end at home until it ends worldwide.
And I want to spend a minute on this, because it’s critical to understand. Even if we vaccinate all 332 million people in the United States tomorrow, we would still not be fully safe from the virus, not while it’s still replicating around the world and turning into new variants that could easily come here and spread across our communities again. And not if we want to fully reopen our economy or start traveling again. Plus, if other countries’ economies aren’t rebounding because they’re still afflicted with COVID, that’ll hurt our recovery too.
The world has to come together to bring the COVID pandemic to an end everywhere. And for that to happen, the United States must act and we must lead.
There is no country on Earth that can do what we can do, both in terms of developing breakthrough vaccines and bringing governments, businesses, and international institutions together to organize the massive, sustained public health effort it’ll take to fully end the pandemic. This will be an unprecedented global operation, involving logistics, financing, supply chain management, manufacturing, and coordinating with community health workers who handle the vital last mile of health care delivery. All of that will take intensive diplomacy.
The world has never done anything quite like this before. This is a moment that calls for American leadership.
Now, the Biden-Harris administration’s main focus to date has been to vaccinate Americans – to slow and ultimately stop COVID here at home. We at the State Department have been focused on vaccinating our workforce in the United States and in embassies and consulates around the world. That’s been the right call. We serve the American people first and foremost. Plus, we can’t forget that the United States has had the highest number of COVID cases of any country in the world by a significant margin. So stopping the spread here has been urgently needed for our people and for the world. We have a duty to other countries to get the virus under control here in the United States.
But soon, the United States will need to step up our work and rise to the occasion worldwide, because again, only by stopping COVID globally will Americans be safe for the long term.
Moreover, we want to rise to the occasion for the world. By helping bring to a close one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, we can show the world once again what American leadership and American ingenuity can do. Let’s make that the story of the end of COVID-19.
We’ve already taken some important steps.
On day one of the administration, we rejoined the World Health Organization. By being at the table, we can push for reforms so that we can prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to the next biological threat.
Congress recently provided more than $11 billion for America’s global COVID response, which we’ll use in several ways, including to save lives by supporting broad and equitable vaccine access; providing aid to mitigate secondary impacts of COVID, like hunger; and helping countries boost their pandemic preparedness.
I’d note that this builds on a long tradition of American leadership. The United States is the world’s largest donor to global health by far, including through international efforts like the Global Fund and the World Health Organization – and through our own outstanding global health programs, like PEPFAR, which has helped bring the world to the cusp of the first AIDS-free generation.
We’ve also made a $2 billion donation to the COVAX program, which will supply COVID vaccines to low-income and middle-income countries. We’ve pledged another $2 billion that we’ll provide as other countries fulfill their own pledges.
We’ve already loaned vaccines to our closest neighbors, Mexico and Canada.
And we’ll work with global partners on manufacturing and supplies to ensure there will be enough vaccine for everyone, everywhere.
As we get more confident in our vaccine supply here at home, we are exploring options to share more with other countries going forward.
We believe that we’ll be in a position to do much more on this front.
I know that many countries are asking for the United States to do more, some with growing desperation because of the scope and scale of their COVID emergencies. We hear you. And I promise, we’re moving as fast as possible.
We’ll be guided every step by core values.
We won’t trade shots in arms for political favors. This is about saving lives.
We’ll treat our partner countries with respect; we won’t overpromise and underdeliver.
We’ll maintain high standards for the vaccines that we help to bring to others, only distributing those proven to be safe and effective.
We’ll insist on an approach built on equity. COVID has already come down hard on vulnerable and marginalized people. We cannot allow our COVID response to end up making racial and gender inequality worse.
We’ll embrace partnership, sharing the burden and combining strengths. The collaboration we formed a few weeks ago with the Quad countries – India, Japan, Australia – is a good example. Together, we’re increasing the world’s manufacturing capacity so we can get more shots out the door and into people’s arms as fast as possible.
And by the way, one of the reasons we work through multilateral collaborations where possible is because they often share and defend these same values. For example, the COVAX initiative is designed explicitly to ensure that low- and middle-income countries can also get vaccines, because it’s only through broad and equitable vaccination that we’ll end the pandemic.
Finally, we’ll address the current emergency while also taking the long view. We can’t just end this pandemic. We must also leave our country and the world better prepared for the next one.
To do that, we’ll work with partners to reform and strengthen the institutions and systems that safeguard global health security. That will require countries to commit to transparency, information sharing, access for international experts in real time. We’ll need a sustainable approach to financing, surge capacity, and accountability, so all countries can act quickly to stem the next outbreak. And we’ll keep pushing for a complete and transparent investigation into the origins of this epidemic, to learn what happened – so it doesn’t happen again.
All told, this work is a key piece of President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda. We’ve got to make sure that we can better detect, prevent, prepare for, and respond to future pandemics and other biological threats. Otherwise, we’ll be badly letting ourselves and future generations down.
This is a pivotal moment – a time for us to think big and act boldly. And the United States will rise to the challenge.
I’m here today with a remarkable leader who will help us do just that.
Gayle Smith was the administrator of USAID for President Obama, and served on the National Security Council for both President Obama and President Clinton, where we first got to know each other and worked together. She has deep experience in responding to public health threats, having helped lead the U.S. response to the Ebola crisis in 2014, having worked for years on the global fights against malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS. She is joining us from her most recent role as president and CEO of the ONE Campaign, which fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, primarily in Africa.
She’s tested. She’s highly respected. She will hit the ground running. And I can say from having worked with Gayle and admired her for years that no one will work harder, faster, or more effectively to get us to the finish line.
I’m grateful she’s agreed to serve as the coordinator for global COVID response and health security. Gayle Smith, the floor is yours. Thank you for doing this.
MS SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. It’s a pleasure to be able to work with you again, and to call you Mr. Secretary.
I’d also like to thank my friends at the ONE Campaign for making this possible. And I look forward to working with the men and women of the department and across the federal government, including because I know what you can do.
I want to thank in particular some really smart scientists, President Biden, and the staff and volunteers at Howard University, where tomorrow I will get my second dose of the COVID vaccine.
That vaccine is good for the body, but it’s also good for the mind and the soul, because it inspires hope in the future. And our job is to shape that future.
I fought some viruses in the past, and I’ve learned two lessons. The first is that if the virus is moving faster than we are, it’s winning. The second is that with unity of purpose, science, vigilance, and leadership, we can outpace any virus.
America’s done it before. Eighteen years ago, a Republican president launched a bold initiative to take on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A Democratic president went on to expand that mission in scope. In 2014, the Obama-Biden administration, with the strong and generous support of Congress, defeated the world’s first Ebola epidemic.
Our challenges now are two: first, to shorten the lifespan of a borderless pandemic that is destroying lives and livelihoods all over the world, and the second is to ensure that we can prevent, detect, and respond to those future global health threats we know are coming.
American leadership is desperately needed, and I’m extremely confident we can rise to the occasion. I’m honored to be here, and thank you very, very much.