By Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration on Monday named a coordinator to lead U.S. COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy globally as it sought to assure countries seeking more supplies from Washington that it was moving as fast as possible.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken named Gayle Smith, a former U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) coordinator under the Obama administration, as the coordinator for the Global COVID Response & Health Security at the State Department.
In remarks at the Department, Blinken said as Washington ensures its own vaccine supply, it has begun exploring how to share more with other countries. The United States has administered more than 165 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Sunday morning.
“I know that many countries are asking the United States to do more, some with growing desperation, because of the scope and the scale of their COVID emergencies. We hear you, and I promise we’re moving as fast as possible.”
U.S. effort to boost its vaccine supplies to the rest of the world comes as Washington works to push back against China’s widening vaccine diplomacy. Russia has also offered several million doses with financing to an African Union (AU) purchasing scheme.
“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’ll be enough vaccine for everyone, everywhere,” Blinken said.
The United States, which has not yet authorized AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for use, has said it planned to send roughly 4 million doses of that vaccine to Mexico and Canada in bilateral loan deals with the two countries.
Washington has also announced that, with three of its closest Indo-Pacific partners, it was committing to supplying up to a billion coronavirus vaccine doses across Asia by the end of 2022.
Blinken said Smith has experience in combating global health crises, including malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. Recently, she was the CEO of the ONE Campaign, a global organization working to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030.
Speaking after Blinken, Smith said “with unity of purpose, science, vigilance and leadership,” the world could outpace any virus.
“American leadership is desperately needed and I’m extremely confident that we can rise to the occasion,” she added.