April 6 (UPI) — The Biden administration has named Gayle Smith, the former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, to lead the nation’s global COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy effort.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Smith as coordinator for the new U.S. global COVID response and health security unit on Monday when he said the United States will now seek to end the pandemic at home by fighting it worldwide.
“The world has come together to bring the COVID pandemic to an end everywhere. And for that to happen, the United States must act and we must lead,” he told reporters in Washington, D.C.
With more than 30 million Americans who have been infected by the virus, including 555,000 people who lost their lives, the United States is the sickest country to the pandemic, according to a live map of global infections by Johns Hopkins University.
However, as of Monday night the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the United States has administered more than 167 million COVID-19 vaccine doses with more than 62 million people having been fully inoculated against the deadly and infectious coronavirus.
The United States has been ramping up its inoculation drive as President Joe Biden announced health officials would administer 100 million vaccine doses within his first 100 days in office, a bar he double to 200 million after accomplishing the first goal in fewer than 60 days.
The administration is now working to open vaccine centers to ensure that by April 19 90% of the population is within 5 miles of one.
Blinken told reporters that even if they inoculate all 332 million Americans the United States would not be safe from the virus until it was completely eradicated, and as part of the U.S. fight and responsibilities to the international community it had to first stop the spread within its own borders.
“But soon,” he said, “the United States will need to step up our work and rise to the occasion worldwide, because again, only by stopping COVID globally will Americans be safe for the long term.”
He said many countries have been reaching out to the United States, some with “growing desperation” for vaccine doses. He said the United States hears them and is moving as fast as possible to help.
As the United States’ inoculation rate increases, they will be looking to share vaccines with international partners, but they will neither trade shots for political favors nor overpromise and under deliver while insisting on equitable access.
“COVID has already come down hard on vulnerable and marginalized people,” he said. “We cannot allow our COVID response to end up making racial and gender inequality worse.”
Smith, who worked under the Obama administration in its response to the Ebola outbreak of 2014, said American leadership is “desperately need” and she is “extremely confident” the United States will rise to occasion.
She said her challenges ahead will be to shorten the life of the pandemic and to ensure the prevention, detection and U.S. response to future global health threats that are coming.
“I fought some viruses in the past and I’ve learned two lessons,” she said. “The first is that if the virus is moving faster than we are, it’s winning. The second is that with unity of purpose, science, vigilance and leadership, we can outpace any virus.”
Smith, who is to receive her second shot Tuesday, will be stepping down as president and chief executive of the ONE Campaign, which seeks to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, the organization said in a statement.