Fauci Pledges U.S. Covax Support in Re-Engagement With WHO

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    U.S. infectious-disease chief Anthony Fauci pledged his country’s commitment to the World Health Organization, including membership in a global effort to deploy Covid-19 vaccines.

    Fauci addressed the Geneva-based group a day after Joe Biden’s inauguration, underlining the new U.S. president’s effort to mend ties with an agency crucial to fighting the pandemic. He confirmed that the U.S. will join Covax, a 92-nation vaccine collaboration that the Trump administration declined to participate in.

    “The U.S. also intends to fulfill its financial obligations” to the WHO, Fauci said in a speech via a video link. “The U.S. sees technical collaboration on all levels as a fundamental part of our relationship with the WHO, one we value deeply and look to strengthen going forward.”

    Fauci’s address initiates a campaign to re-engage with allies snubbed by his predecessor. The United Nations agency was a frequent target of former President Donald Trump, who accused it of being lax on China and failing to provide accurate information about the virus.

    Biden reversed Trump’s decision to exit the WHO on his first day in office as the U.S. death toll from Covid exceeded 400,000, higher than any other country.

    The U.S. has been the WHO’s largest contributor, providing $400 million to $500 million in mandatory and voluntary contributions, and Trump’s decision last year drew sharp criticism in Congress, as well as from allies in Europe. The WHO has been heavily involved in the fight against the coronavirus, especially in poor countries.

    The U.S. is willing to share research more quickly and will make health officials more available, ending a staff drawdown from the organization, Fauci said. The U.S. also wants to work with other WHO members to reform and strengthen the organization, he said.

    Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke at Thursday’s session of a series of executive board meetings that began Monday. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus congratulated Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Twitter late Wednesday.

    As WHO members discuss reforming the WHO’s financing, that should involve an assessment of what the organization can achieve with its current budget and how it can use those funds more efficiently, plus a business case for additional resources needed and whether it would expand its mandate, according to the U.S. delegation.

    Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of state, said earlier this week that a U.S. rift with WHO may be healing and that the U.S. was preparing to join Covax, the program led by the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

    Many countries are depending on Covax, which aims to deploy vaccines equitably to every corner of the planet. Yet several have questioned whether the program will get the vaccines it needs, the WHO’s Tedros said earlier this week. A number of governments are also pursuing their own supply deals through direct talks with manufacturers.

    Covax has said it secured access to almost 2 billion doses, with deliveries due to begin in the first quarter, and set a goal of vaccinating up to a fifth of countries’ populations by the end of the year.

    A review process of the WHO has begun, with an independent panel saying earlier this week that the body was underpowered to do the job expected of it during the pandemic. The report, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, criticized missteps by the WHO and countries including China. The panel’s final report is due in May.

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