The leading infectious disease expert in the United States says the country will participate in the global initiative to provide COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to new U.S. President Joe Biden, told the executive board of the World Health Organization Thursday during a videoconference that the U.S. will join the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or COVAX, an international alliance led by WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, an organization founded by Bill and Melinda Gates to vaccinate children in the world's poorest countries.
"President Biden will issue a directive later today which will include the intent of the United States to join COVAX and support the ACT-Accelerator to advance multilateral efforts for COVID-19 vaccine, therapeutic, and diagnostic distribution, equitable access, and research and development," Fauci said.
Fauci noted it will not be easy to respond to COVID-19, rebuild and strengthen global health around the world. He added, however, this had to be done as societies were being devastated by the worsening pandemic. He noted the world had surpassed 90 million coronavirus infections and that the numbers were growing.
"We are committed to transparency, including those events surrounding the early days of the pandemic. It is imperative that we learn and build upon important lessons about how future pandemic events can be averted," he said.
Fauci also said the U.S. would fulfill its financial obligations to the United Nations health agency and maintain its previous staffing commitments. His remarks came one day after Biden issued an order on his first day in office pledging to restore Washington's ties with WHO. Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, announced in May that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the WHO, accusing the agency of helping China cover up the extent of the coronavirus, which was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, speaks after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a visioconference, in Geneva, Jan. 21, 2021. (Black/WHO/Handout via Reuters)
"This is a good day for WHO and a good day for global health," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in response to Fauci's announcement.
In a related story, Reuters news agency says the COVAX initiative announced Thursday that it is aiming to deliver 1.8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine to poor countries in 2021, and hopes to fulfill supply deals for wealthier ones in the second half of the year.
The world is racing against time to produce and deliver billions of doses of new coronavirus vaccines to blunt the pandemic, which has killed over 2 million people out of a total of over 96.9 million confirmed COVID-19 infections, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The United States leads the world in both categories with 406,147 deaths out of a total of 24.4 million cases.
But vaccination efforts have run into numerous difficulties, including logistical hurdles, bureaucratic failures and a basic shortage of vaccines, which has led to residents across the U.S. having had their vaccine appointments canceled.
Peru doctors on hunger strike
In Peru, a group of doctors launched a hunger strike this week to protest the government's lack of preparation for a second wave of COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Teodoro Quinones, the secretary-general of Peru's physician's union who is taking part in the strike, and at least a half-dozen striking doctors are staging the strike in a makeshift tent outside the headquarters of the health ministry in the capital, Lima.
Quinones says the government has not fulfilled its commitments to improve conditions in the country's public hospital system, leaving doctors without adequate supplies of oxygen, medicines and ventilators. He told The New York Times the state-run EsSalud network dismissed COVID-19 specialists after the first wave receded and failed to hire them back when more and more new cases began filling up hospital intensive care units.
The South American country has 1,073,214 confirmed coronavirus infections, including 39,044 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
Lisa Schlein in Geneva contributed to this report