President Joe Biden will address a global summit on COVID-19 Thursday, but Congress’ refusal to authorize billions of dollars in funding has thrown into doubt his role as leader of ambitious plans to vaccinate the world and finally stop the pandemic.
The US crossed a grim milestone ahead of the summit, with the White House announcing that more than one million Americans had died due to COVID-19, the highest recorded death toll from the pandemic in the world.
A senior US official said the summit would aim to “redouble” international cooperation on combating COVID, which has killed more than six million people worldwide and triggered profound economic disruption.
“We want to prevent complacency. The pandemic is not over,” the official said, adding that the summit will also discuss preparing the world “for the next one – the next pandemic.”
The virtual gathering will be co-chaired by the United States, along with current G7 president Germany, G20 president Indonesia, African Union chair Senegal, and Belize, the current chair of the CARICOM Caribbean grouping.
Biden is expected to open the summit, which follows a first global huddle last September.
Unlike then, when Biden challenged partners to surge vaccines around the world and get 70 percent of every country vaccinated by September of this year, the US government will come to Thursday’s session hobbled by inability to secure even its own funding.
Biden has requested another $22.5 billion in emergency Covid funding, including $5 billion for the administration’s signature international program, which has already seen some 500 million vaccine doses shipped to more than 100 countries.
After debate, preliminary agreement was reached in the legislature on spending just $10 billion, with nothing for the foreign vaccines.
“You will hear a loud call” to Congress, the US official said. “We know the virus is not waiting for Congress. So we need urgent, urgent action.”
In his statement announcing the US death toll on Thursday, Biden said it was “critical” for Congress to continue to fund anti-pandemic efforts.
According to the official, a properly funded and coordinated international approach is the only way that the world can rid itself of a virus which – while now far less deadly than before vaccines were available – continues to mutate and spread, slowing down the return to full economic activity.
Opponents in Congress have been especially concerned by the money requested for foreign vaccinations, but the official argued that when a new virus variant strikes it is likely to start abroad before hitting the United States.
“Without additional emergency COVID-19 funding, the United States will be unable to purchase additional life-saving treatments to the American people. The United States will be less able to stop the spread of dangerous new variants from around the world and the United States will be unable to keep vaccinating the world against COVID-19.”
The summit will hear appeals for countries to invest in a World Bank pandemic preparedness fund, with the United States set to pledge another $200 million, raising its contribution to $450 million, the official said.
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