Dr. Francis Collins
Acting Senior Science Advisor to the President
May 5, 2022
Thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity to provide keynote remarks at the 7th Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ministers, distinguished delegates, and colleagues, the United States is delighted to speak about the future of science, technology, and innovation for development in these challenging times.
Over two years ago, the world faced a new highly contagious virus that led to a global pandemic. The interconnectivity of our world hastened the spread of the virus across borders, but it also enabled the rapid sharing of scientific information to support treatments and prevention efforts.
We all should be proud of the success of the scientific community in combatting COVID-19. At the same time, we must recognize that we have all struggled to protect those most in need of our assistance and have encountered many setbacks. We must all bring humility and learn from those missteps to ensure we do better in future pandemics.
As the Director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, I was privileged to work closely with international colleagues in an unprecedented program to develop vaccines in record time, test dozens of therapeutics, and develop new diagnostic tests for home use.
Now as we observe new Omicron sub-variants, most recently BA.4 and BA.5, leading to a rise in new infections, we are reminded of the focused attention the COVID-19 response still requires.
Our efforts to track and respond to the pandemic have truly been a global effort. I would like to recognize the extraordinary contributions of scientists in South Africa, Botswana, the United Kingdom, and Israel to share information expeditiously about emergence of recent variants and effectiveness of vaccines.
We are focused on ending the acute phase of this pandemic and building enduring capacity to address COVID-19 variants and future pandemics. We are grateful to scientists and researchers around the world who have contributed so much to the response.
Remarkable though the development of COVID-19 vaccines has been, we recognize that access to those vaccines has not been equitable. Without a true and urgent commitment to vaccinating the world, the pandemic will continue to threaten our safety, our economies, and our future.
The United States has committed to donating 1.2 billion doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to the world, more than any other nation on earth. To date, we have shipped over 530 million doses around the world, both bilaterally and in partnership with COVAX – all for free.
Significant challenges remain. We must ensure that vaccines reach the highest-need populations by using evidence-based interventions to create demand and provide accurate information about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. We urgently need to ensure access and financing for tests and lifesaving treatments; free up supply chain bottlenecks; and combat misinformation and disinformation.
We know that the future holds more health emergencies, including the potential risk of pandemics. We must prepare – now – to build, sustain, and finance the global capacity we need for emerging variants and future health crises.
The United States will continue to convene foreign governments, including the G7’s 100 Days Mission, to keep preparedness against future pandemics on the top of the global agenda.
Bolstered by our common desire to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, we must refocus our efforts — together — to move forward to advance a positive vision for the future of science, technology, and innovation as we build back better.
The United States will continue to lead but we will also listen and learn.
20th Century scientific cooperation delivered tremendous advances in medicine, industry, and productivity. The challenges of the 21st Century – the prospect of new pandemics resulting from closer interaction of human society and nature, the threats of climate change – can only be faced if we redouble that same cooperation and collaboration across borders.
We can listen and learn from countries like Costa Rica and Rwanda, about how to build public health systems that can achieve better outcomes and lower costs.
We can learn from countries like India and Uganda, about how to extend clean energy and make modern power grids more efficient and resilient.
There is no better place or time than a Forum on STI for development, to renew a commitment to global cooperation, rooted in inclusivity, multi-stakeholder engagement, and respect for the international rule-based order.
The United States believes in the continued relevance and importance of a focused, efficient, and effective United Nations. We will redouble our efforts to promote the deployment of science, technology, and innovation for building back better from the COVID-19 pandemic.
I cannot overstate the importance of good-faith cooperation based on values we share as scientists: openness, humility, diversity, and – yes — dissent.
I know that science can struggle to live up to these values, and I understand some countries, including my own, sometimes fall short.
But we must persist. The United States values diversity because scientific, technological, and innovative progress depends on listening and learning from others who bring a different lens, different experiences, different questions, and different passions to the table.
And we value dissent because progress in science – and frankly, so many different aspects of the human experience – depends on challenging ideas and theories to see if they stand up to scrutiny.
Values of openness and transparency, where scientists and innovators can voice contrary opinions without fear of reprisal, where decisions are informed by data, are therefore fundamental to achieving solutions to our collective challenges.
And finally, over the next two days, let us reflect on how far we have come in utilizing science and technology to promote and enable development, democracy, human rights, and peace and security.
But I would be remiss if I did not address the man-made threats that threaten to move us backward instead of building back better.
Russia’s war of choice in Ukraine, facilitated by Belarus, is an affront to the values and principles we seek to affirm – our work to promote closer ties, our belief in collaboration across the boundaries of nations, religion, ethnicity, and creed, and our efforts to advance science, technology, and innovation for global benefit.
We must remain vigilant to ensure that access to scientific cooperation flows from mutual respect of all parties for the underpinning values and principles of the United Nations.
Our partnership with, and commitment to, the people of Ukraine is steadfast and enduring. The United States will continue to stand with Ukraine and its people in this crisis.
In closing, our goal is clear: to build strong networks – of countries, companies, and universities, connected by shared values and a shared commitment to conduct science, to design and deploy technology for the benefit of all people, to strengthen open and interoperable systems, and to encourage freedom of thought and expression, which is at the heart of science, technology, and innovation, and of course, democratic values and principles.
If we focus on this today, tomorrow, and in all our shared endeavors — together — we can shape the global evolution of science, technology, and innovation in a manner consistent with these values and realize the promise that they bring to build back better from COVID-19.
Once again, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you.