Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on COVID-19 and Vaccine Access (via VTC)

Antony J. Blinken
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C.
February 17, 2021


Dominic, thank you very much, and it’s very good to be with all of you today. I thank my colleague from Tunisia for his very strong remarks, and I very much thank Secretary-General Guterres for his leadership on what is truly a global challenge.

Mr. Raab, thank you for bringing us together in particular to look at barriers to vaccine access, including in areas that are affected by conflict. We all know, we all feel that this pandemic has taken a terrible toll on so many families and communities. And first and foremost, as human beings our hearts go out to all of them.

Thanks to tireless global efforts – scientists, of doctors, health professionals – several safe and effective vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics have been developed, and these are remarkable achievements. Thanks to collaboration between the private sector and governments, global manufacturing capacity for safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines is expanding – but not fast enough to address the global need.

The United States will work with our partners across the globe to expand manufacturing and distribution capacity and to increase access, including to marginalized populations.

Here’s how else we plan to contribute to ending this pandemic. As some of you will have seen, President Biden’s first National Security Memorandum made clear that the United States will once again serve as a global health leader. The United States believes that multilateralism, the United Nations, the World Health Organization are essential – not just as an effective international COVID-19 health and humanitarian response, but also building stronger global health capacity and security for the future. We have the immediate challenge of COVID-19; we have a longer challenge, but equally vital, in establishing the strongest possible global health structure going forward.

With the news of another Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea, there is clearly no time to waste.

And our vision has to be bold. We must defeat COVID-19 and prevent future pandemics. To that end, we’ll work with partners around the globe to strengthen and reform the WHO; to support the Global Health Security Agenda; to build sustainable preparedness for biological threats; to create a warning system that will allow us to respond more rapidly with testing, with tracing, with PPE needed to save lives.

We seek to advance the creation of a long-overdue sustainable financing mechanism for health security, so we can leave the world more prepared for future outbreaks than it was for this pandemic.

We’re working with the WHO, the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, and the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator. And we recently elevated our participation from observer to participant on the ACT Facilitation Council.

We plan to provide significant financial support to COVAX through Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. And we’ll work to strengthen other multilateral initiatives involved in the global COVID-19 response – for example, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

These commitments build on a long tradition. Over the past two decades, the United States has provided more than $140 billion in global health assistance. We’re now the single largest contributor to the international response to COVID-19.

Today, I’m pleased to confirm that by the end of the month the United States intends to pay over 200 million in assessed and current obligations to the WHO. This is a key step forward in fulfilling our financial obligations as a WHO member. And it reflects our renewed commitment to ensuring the WHO has the support it needs to lead the global response to the pandemic, even as we work to reform it for the future.

Every country needs to do its part and contribute to the COVID-19 response. We’ve already announced more than $1.6 billion in emergency economic, health, and humanitarian aid to try to help governments, international organizations, and NGOs mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and its secondary impacts worldwide.  And that’s in addition to a commitment of $1.16 billion over fiscal years 2020 through 2023 to support Gavi’s broader immunization efforts.

As we move forward, it’s critical to look at who the pandemic has hurt the most. The secretary-general has called for us to put women and girls at the center of the COVID-19 response and recovery.  The data we’ve all seen has shown a profound backsliding in gender equality, including spikes in gender-based violence as families are confined to close quarters during the pandemic.

We need to continue implementing Security Council Resolution 1325 and redouble our efforts to implement Council Resolution 2475. We must support the secretary-general’s various COVID-19 policy briefs on gender, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable and marginalized groups. These groups must be included as decision-makers at all levels, following the principle of “nothing about us without us.”

And countries must be held accountable for upholding their human rights obligations. No country should be allowed to use COVID-19 as an excuse to violate human rights or fundamental freedoms.  We also call for all countries to combat misinformation on vaccines. If we don’t, we seriously jeopardize our mission.

Even as we expand access to safe and effective vaccines, we know that COVID-19 outbreaks are likely to occur in the years to come. The ongoing expert investigation about the origins of this pandemic – and the report that will be issued – must be independent, with findings based on science and facts and free from interference.

To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, all countries must make available all data from the earliest days of any outbreak. And going forward, all countries should participate in a transparent and robust process for preventing and responding to health emergencies, so the world learns as much as possible as soon as possible. Transparency, information sharing, access for international experts – these must be the hallmarks of our common approach to what is truly a global challenge.

The language in Resolution 2532 remains as relevant now as when it was adopted in July of 2020.  Conflict-affected countries weakened by war, violence, and poor health infrastructure remain highly vulnerable to pandemics and other illnesses that can be prevented by immunizations. And this pandemic has worsened already dire humanitarian and political crises, contributing to unprecedented levels of need.

Organizing and implementing mass vaccination campaigns amid violence and conflict we know will be immensely difficult. But we have to do it, to prevent humanitarian crises from getting worse and to stop the pandemic’s secondary impacts from degrading fragile political situations.

As President Biden has made clear, the United States will work as a partner to address global challenges. This pandemic is one of those challenges. And it gives us an opportunity, not only to get through the current crisis, but also to become more prepared and more resilient for the future.

Thank you, and I’m grateful to be able to work with all of you on the challenge that affects all of us.