Politics

Biden calls on global partners to bolster the world’s Covid response: ‘We need to go big.’

Declaring “we need to go big,” President Biden on Wednesday called on other world leaders, pharmaceutical executives, philanthropists and civil society organizations to band together to forge a global consensus around a plan to fight the coronavirus crisis.

Speaking at the opening of a virtual Covid-19 summit he is convening in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, Mr. Biden cited two especially urgent challenges: vaccinating the world against Covid-19, and solving a global oxygen crisis, which is leading to unnecessary deaths among Covid-19 patients who might survive if oxygen were available.

“We’re not going to solve this crisis with half measures or middle of the road ambitions — we need to go big,” the president said, adding, “It’s an all hands on deck crisis.”

But it may be hard to turn Mr. Biden’s words into reality. Less than 10 percent of the population of poor nations — and less than 4 percent of the African population — has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Worldwide, 79 percent of shots that have been administered have been in high- and upper-middle-income countries, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. Covax, the W.H.O.-backed international vaccine initiative, is behind schedule in delivering shots to the low- and middle-income nations that need them the most.

Around the world, more than 4.5 million people have died of Covid-19 — a “global tragedy,” Mr. Biden said. But critics of the administration had low expectations for the gathering.

“This summit deserves to be, needs to be, a debate of historic dimensions,” Peter Maybarduk, access to medicines director for Public Citizen, the consumer advocacy organization, which has been urging the administration to adopt a $25 billion plan to scale up vaccine manufacturing around the world.

“But it won’t be that kind of debate,” he added, adding that he thought the hosts would unlikely to be significantly challenged by less powerful governments and vulnerable people. “It will not produce the transformative response needed to end the pandemic,” he said.

The summit was to begin with Mr. Biden and other world leaders, including António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, gathering virtually for a small panel discussion entitled “Call the World to Account and Vaccinate the World,” moderated by Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Mr. Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations. Participants include other presidents and prime ministers, including President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, according to an agenda obtained by The New York Times.

White House officials have said that Mr. Biden’s message to the group will be that the United States cannot fight the pandemic, or address the global vaccine shortage, on its own. Earlier Wednesday, Pfizer-BioNTech announced that it had struck a deal with the Biden administration to sell the United States an additional 500 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine, to be donated to nations that need them.

Mr. Biden heralded the deal in his opening remarks, saying it would bring to 1.1 billion the total number of doses his administration has purchased for donation. “Put another way, for every one shot we’ve administered to pay in America, we have now committed to do three shots to the rest of the world,” he said.

Drug company executives, philanthropists and leaders of nonprofit organizations have also been invited to the summit, which administration officials say is the largest gathering of heads of state to date to address the global pandemic.

Mr. Biden has been under intense pressure from global health experts to do more to address the vaccine shortage — and in particular expand manufacturing around the world. Mr. Biden said the U.S. is doing so, through a partnership with India, Japan and Australia that, he said, “is on track to produce at least 1 billion vaccine doses in India to boost the global supply by the end of 2022.”

Drug manufacturers are also under pressure to do more. The Biden administration has urged both Pfizer and Moderna to enter into joint ventures where they would license their technology to contract manufacturers with the aim of providing vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, according to a senior administration official.

Those talks led to the Pfizer donation, but the talks with Moderna have not borne fruit, the official said.

At a briefing held by Physicians for Human Rights earlier this week, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist of the World Health Organization, sounded a note of urgency and issued a plea for nations to work together to distribute vaccines in a coordinated — and equitable — fashion. She also urged countries to share their excess supplies.

“A country by country approach, a nationalistic approach, is not going to get us out of this pandemic,” she said. “And that’s where we are today.”

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