WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden called on world leaders at the COVID-19 summit on Thursday to step up lagging international commitments to fight the virus as he led the United States in marking the “tragic milestone” of 1 million deaths in America. He ordered flags lowered and warned against complacency around the world.

“This pandemic is not over,” Biden said at the Second World Pandemic Summit. He solemnly spoke of the once unimaginable gathering in the United States: “1 million empty chairs around the family dinner table.”

According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the coronavirus has killed more than 999,000 people in the United States and at least 6.2 million people worldwide since its appearance in late 2019. Other estimates, including the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, point to 1 million.

“Today we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States, 1 million deaths from COVID,” he said.

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The president called on Congress to urgently allocate billions of dollars for testing, vaccines and treatment, which lawmakers have so far refused to give.

This lack of funding – Biden has requested an additional $ 22.5 billion, which he calls critical money – is a reflection of the shaky determination of the United States, which threatens a global response to the pandemic, he said.

Eight months after he used the first COVID summit to announce an ambitious promise to donate 1.2 billion doses of the vaccine to the world, the urgent need for a response from the United States and other countries eased.

The momentum of vaccinations and treatments has disappeared, even as more and more infectious options grow, and billions of people around the world remain vulnerable.

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Biden spoke at the opening of the virtual summit on Thursday morning with recorded statements and said that the fight against COVID-19 “should remain an international priority.” The United States, along with Germany, Indonesia, Senegal and Belize, is hosting the summit.

“This summit is an opportunity to resume our efforts to keep up with the gas when it comes to controlling this pandemic and preventing future health crises,” Biden said.

According to the State Department, the United States has sent nearly 540 million doses of the vaccine to more than 110 countries and territories – far more than in any other donor country.

Leaders have announced $ 3 billion in new commitments to fight the virus, as well as a host of new programs aimed at expanding access to vaccines and treatments worldwide. But it was a much more modest result than at last year’s meeting.

“Globally, all countries, large or small, rich or poor, should have equal access to health care solutions,” Indonesian President Joko Widoda said in a speech.

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After delivering more than 1 billion vaccines to the developing world, the problem is no longer the lack of injections, but the logistical support to get doses into service. According to government figures, more than 680 million donated doses of the vaccine remained unused in developing countries because they expired and could not be administered quickly enough. As of March, 32 poor countries had used less than half of their COVID-19 vaccines.

U.S. assistance to promote and promote vaccination abroad dried up earlier this year, and Biden requested about $ 5 billion for those efforts by the end of the year.

“We have tens of millions of unclaimed doses because countries lack the resources to build their own refrigeration chains, which are mostly refrigeration systems, to combat misinformation and to hire vaccinators,” a White House spokeswoman said this week. Jen Psaki. She added that the summit “will be an opportunity to highlight the fact that we need additional funding to continue to be part of this effort around the world.”

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“We are going to continue to fight for more funding,” Psaki said. “But we will continue to put pressure on other countries to help the world make progress.”

Congress has waived the price of aid in connection with COVID-19 and has so far refused to accept the package because of political opposition to the speedy end of migration restrictions during the pandemic era on the U.S.-Mexico border. Even after a brief consensus on funding for viruses emerged in March, lawmakers decided to cut funding for global aid and focus aid solely on increasing U.S. supplies of vaccines and therapies.

Biden warned that without the actions of Congress, the U.S. could lose access to next-generation vaccines and treatments, and that the country would not have enough extra doses or the antiviral drug Paxlovid next year. He is also alarmed that there will be more options if the US and the world do no more to contain the virus worldwide.

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“To defeat the pandemic here, we need to defeat it everywhere,” Biden said last September during the first global summit.

Demand for the COVID-19 vaccine has declined in some countries as infections and deaths have declined worldwide in recent months, especially because the omicron variant has proven to be less severe than previous versions of the disease. According to Dr. Seth Berkeley, CEO of the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, speaking to COVAX, for the first time since its inception, COVAX’s UN-supported efforts have “enough room for countries to achieve their national vaccination targets.”

However, despite the fact that more than 65% of the world’s population received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, less than 16% of people in poor countries were immunized. It is very unlikely that countries will achieve the World Health Organization’s goal of vaccinating 70% of all people by June.

In countries such as Cameroon, Uganda and Côte d’Ivoire, officials have struggled to get enough refrigerators to transport vaccines, send enough syringes to mass companies and get enough health workers to administer injections. Experts also note that more than half of the health workers needed to vaccinate in poor countries are either underpaid or underpaid.

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Critics say donating more vaccines would completely miss the point.

“It’s like donating a bunch of fire engines to burning countries but no water,” said Rita Sharma, vice president of the charity CARE, which has helped immunize people in more than 30 countries, including India. in the south. Sudan and Bangladesh.

“We can’t give countries all these vaccines, but we can’t use them,” she said, adding that the same infrastructure that led to the introduction in the United States is now needed elsewhere. “We had to solve this problem in the United States, so why don’t we now use that knowledge to deliver vaccines to the people who need them most?”

Sharma said more investment is needed to counter vaccine fluctuations in developing countries, where there are strong beliefs about the potential dangers of Western drugs.

Berkeley of Gavy also said that countries are increasingly demanding more expensive RNA vaccines Pfizer and Moderna, which are not as readily available as the AstraZeneca vaccine, which accounted for the bulk of COVAX supplies last year.

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Options such as delta and omicron have forced many countries to switch to mRNA vaccines, which appear to provide greater protection and are in greater demand worldwide than traditionally produced vaccines such as vaccines from China and Russia.

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Cheng reported from London. AP writer Chris Megerian contributed.

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