Biden’s Covid Summit Aims to Bolster Pandemic Fight

President Biden and other heads of state vowed Thursday to redouble their efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and countries including Germany and Canada pledged large sums to finance tests, therapeutics and vaccines — a commitment Mr. Biden could not make because Congress refuses to authorize new emergency aid.

The pledges came at Mr. Biden’s second Covid-19 summit, a virtual gathering that the president he co-hosted with the leaders of Belize, Germany, Indonesia and Senegal. But some countries were notably absent. China did not attend, and Russia was not invited, senior administration officials said.

“Now is the time for us to act,” Mr. Biden said as he opened the virtual gathering, speaking by video. “All of us together. We all must do more. We must honor those we have lost by doing everything we can to prevent as many deaths as possible.”

Both Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who is representing the United States in the opening session with world leaders, used the gathering to mark a coming milestone: one million American lives lost to Covid-19.

Ms. Harris also appealed for a new set of “international norms” and “common understandings” — a set of principles, she said, that all countries should have access to lifesaving vaccines, tests and therapeutics, that leaders “should prioritize the most vulnerable and the overlooked and that we must recognize and address inequities.”

The meeting, which you can watch live here, is intended to reinvigorate the international response to the coronavirus crisis at a time when vaccination and testing rates are lagging, and as many nations are looking to put the pandemic behind them. Global health experts, officials and activists all said this week that the world needed to prepare for the possibility of another deadly variant.

“We’ve got to puncture the complacency about this, to make sure that people realize that if we don’t act, another variant is a possibility — and we don’t know how lethal it could be,” Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister who is now the World Health Organization’s ambassador for global health financing, said in an interview this week. In advance of the summit, senior administration officials said the White House had secured more than $3 billion in pledges from other countries and from philanthropies by urging the summit’s participants to make significant commitments, both financial and non-monetary. As it got underway, other nations and philanthropies began stepping up.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany said his country “wants to lead by example,” and announced that Germany will contribute $1.5 billion to the global effort, bringing the country’s total contribution since 2020 to $3.5 billion. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said his country would donate an additional $732 million, bringing Canada’s total contribution to $2 billion.

The president has asked Congress for $22.5 billion — including $5 billion to fight the global pandemic — in emergency coronavirus aid, but the proposal is stuck on Capitol Hill, even as Congress hurries to approve $40 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine. Lawmakers are still struggling to figure out how to advance a pared-down $10 billion coronavirus package. A group of former heads of state, including Mr. Brown and Nobel laureates, called this week for Congress to fulfill Mr. Biden’s request.

Mr. Biden said the United States has so far contributed $19 billion to the global response. The administration is putting forth a relatively small amount of money at the meeting: $200 million for a World Bank fund to prepare for future pandemics, and $20 million for pilot projects to bring coronavirus tests and treatments to poor nations

And the United States is also making a significant nonmonetary commitment: The National Institutes of Health has agreed to license its “stabilized spike protein technology” — a crucial component of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments — to companies through the Medicines Patent Pool. The organization is a global nonprofit backed by the World Health Organization that works to bring medicines to low- and middle-income nations at low cost.

The move is significant because it may lay the groundwork for other countries and companies to share their technologies, said Peter Maybarduk, who directs the global access to medicines program for Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group.

While the United States has donated hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines to poor nations, it has been less aggressive about sharing technology.

“One of the terrible injustices and major impediments in this pandemic has been the exclusive control of critical medical technology,” Mr. Maybarduk said. By working with the Medicines Patent Pool, he said, the Biden administration would be “not only sharing doses, but sharing knowledge, on the view that sharing doses is charity and sharing knowledge is justice.”

Thursday’s gathering is unfolding in a very different climate than the first Covid-19 summit, last September. The war in Ukraine is sapping energy and money from donor nations. The global vaccination campaign is stalled. Testing has dropped precipitously around the globe. Covid antiviral pills are now available in the United States, but remain scarce in low- and middle-income nations.

“We remain woefully behind in our efforts to vaccinate the world, with less than 13 percent of people in low-income countries having received two Covid shots,” Gayle Smith, who ran the State Department’s global Covid response under Mr. Biden and is now chief executive of the One Campaign, an advocacy organization, said on Wednesday. She added, “That the US will not come to the table with any funds to offer tomorrow is deeply concerning.”

Vice President Kamala Harris is the lead representative for the United States at the meeting. Global health organizations, philanthropies and drug makers are also participating.

In preparing for the meeting, the senior administration officials said, the White House asked participants to make “important commitments of all types.” Some low-income nations will commit to accelerating their vaccination campaigns, and some drug makers will agree to consider setting lower prices for treatments.

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