An ardent advocate of protecting some of the world’s poorest countries from Covid-19 has been selected to lead the Biden administration’s vaccine diplomacy in an effort to corral wealthier nations into distributing immunizations more evenly around the globe.
Gayle Smith, a former U.S. Agency for International Development administrator and chief executive of the ONE Campaign to eradicate poverty and preventable disease, will step into the role, a new post at the State Department.
With about 62 million people in the United States already fully vaccinated from Covid-19, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken made a case on Monday for ensuring that more people are protected abroad.
“We have a duty to other countries to get the virus under control here in the United States,” Mr. Blinken said at the State Department. “But soon, 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 saved for the long term.”
Mr. Blinken said other nations have been asking the United States “with growing desperation” to share its vaccine supply. “We hear you, and I promise we’re moving as fast as possible,” he said.
Ms. Smith will be focused largely on trying to coordinate the international response, even as the virus mutates and threatens to extend the pandemic. So far, the United States has contributed or pledged $4 billion to Covax, the global vaccination drive, largely bound for low- and middle-income countries, and Congress last month approved $11 billion in efforts abroad to fight the pandemic on top of billions of dollars sent to foreign nations and nongovernmental organizations in the first year of the outbreak.
Yet China, India and Russia have already outpaced the United States in providing vaccines globally, as an instrument of diplomacy. Just last month, the ONE Campaign urged Mr. Biden to share 5 percent of its doses abroad when 20 percent of Americans have been vaccinated, and increase the doses globally as more people in the United States receive theirs. According to the group, the U.S. government has purchased 453 million excess vaccine doses.
Ms. Smith, who will receive her second vaccine shot on Tuesday, helped lead the Obama administration’s response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014 that swept across borders in West Africa, and into the United States, while the World Health Organization was stunted by staffing cuts and other resources shortages. Officials said the U.N. agency has since fostered a stronger collaboration of scientists and health experts to better track diseases.
The Trump administration withdrew from the W.H.O. last year after it refused to blame China for failing to stop Covid-19 where it originated, but the United States has recommitted to working with the agency under President Biden.
“If the virus is moving faster than we are, it’s winning,” Ms. Smith said after Mr. Blinken announced her appointment on Monday. “But with unity of purpose, science, vigilance and leadership, we can outpace any virus.”
Mr. Blinken said there will be enough vaccines for all adults in the United States by the end of May, following the deaths of more than 550,000 Americans claimed by the virus since February 2020. More than 2.8 million people worldwide have been killed by the pandemic.
Other world leaders have begun to step up demands for wealthy nations to share vaccines with poorer countries; on Sunday, Pope Francis called the vaccines “an essential tool” to stop the pandemic.