Blinken: US to give J&J vaccine in conflict zones
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday announced an effort to distribute Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccines to populations living in conflict zones.
Blinken said the U.S. has helped broker a deal between Johnson & Johnson and COVAX, the global initiative for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, to deliver the one-shot J&J vaccine to people living in conflict zones and other humanitarian settings.
“We’re eager for people in these difficult circumstances to get protection against COVID-19 as soon as possible. We know the urgency of this fight,” the secretary said during a virtual gathering of foreign ministers to address the pandemic.
The announcement is an effort to inoculate some of the most vulnerable people as Western and high-income countries come under criticism for failing to address equitable vaccine distribution.
Blinken called the lag in distributing the vaccine globally the “current emergency” and highlighted how about 10 percent of the population in Africa is fully vaccinated, compared to North America and Europe, where over half of populations are fully vaccinated.
“We’ve got to close that gap,” the secretary said.
A senior administration official said that previously, the J&J vaccine could only be used for other governments’ official vaccination programs but that the U.S. “pioneered a novel legal approach” to allow the vaccine distribution through COVAX and to conflict zones.
The official added that J&J vaccine donations to COVAX are for “flexible use” for conflict zones and other humanitarian settings, or where the need is greatest. Also, the U.S. made available 300,000 J&J vaccines to front-line health care workers in conflict zones, United Nations peacekeeping missions and other emergency settings, such as crises caused by natural disasters.
The secretary’s announcement at the ministerial also served as an effort to rally other nations to reach global goals of increasing vaccination rates around the world.
Blinken said the U.S. supported the World Health Organization’s (WHO) target of achieving 70 percent vaccination rates of the global population by September 2022.
At the current rate of global vaccine distribution, low-income countries are not expected to reach that goal for more than a decade, according to the ONE campaign, a nonprofit advocacy organization.
To date, half of the world has not had a single shot and only 4.2 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose, the ONE campaign said in a statement.
Blinken, during the ministerial, called on global leaders to boost vaccine production, increase donations and fulfill pledges to COVAX to realize this goal.
Other announcements from the ministerial include the launch of a comprehensive, global COVID-19 tracker administered by the WHO, to capture vaccination rates, admissions to hospital intensive care units, vaccine doses pledged and doses delivered.
Blinken said the tracker will help provide transparency and accountability for countries to follow through on their commitments to end the pandemic.
The secretary also announced a new public and private partnership to help administer vaccines more effectively, called the Global COVID Corp. Private companies will work pro bono to provide best practices in managing supply chains and administering vaccine sites.
“Let’s keep up this work together as we move forward, to save lives now and to strengthen global health security for the future,” Blinken said.