U.S. Rift With WHO May Be Healing, Biden Appointee Signals

President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for secretary of state signaled that a rift between the U.S. and World Health Organization is poised to heal after the new administration takes office on Wednesday.

The U.S. is preparing to join Covax, a WHO-led coalition of nations planning to distribute vaccines equitably to lower- and middle-income nations, according to Antony Blinken. Other organizations directing Covax include the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Initiatives and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

“The combination of rejoining, taking part in Covax and looking at how we can help make sure the vaccine is equitably distributed is something we’re going to take on,” Blinken told lawmakers in a confirmation hearing Tuesday.

The U.S. became estranged from the WHO during the pandemic as President Donald Trump suggested that the global health agency had coddled China, where the virus emerged. After decades of partnership in addressing global threats like smallpox, SARS, bird flu and Ebola, Trump set in motion a process to withhold funding from the WHO. The U.S. is the agency’s biggest donor country.

Covax plans to distribute some 2 billion doses around the world by the end of 2021. However, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has expressed concern that drugmakers are prioritizing wealthier countries for vaccine clearances and distribution. That could delay distribution through Covax.

“The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure,” he said Monday in a briefing. “Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritize bilateral deals -- going around Covax, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue. This is wrong.”

U.S. participation could help shore up the vaccine-equity program. China is one of the partner nations, and although its vaccines aren’t among those procured by Covax, Chinese drugmaker Sinovac Biotech Ltd. said it has submitted data on its shot for pre-qualification. The EU is also supporting the plan.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.