Facing mounting demands to share more resources with the rest of the world, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the U.S. plans to be “the world leader” in making sure other countries get vaccinated—but wants to see its own rollout develop further first.
The state department head, speaking during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said he believes the U.S. has a “significant responsibility” in helping the world get vaccinated, with the threat of more variants serving as a key driver.
“Until the vast majority of people in the world are vaccinated, it’s still going to be a problem for us,” said Blinken, warning virus mutations could “be coming back to hit us.”
Blinken said the U.S. is currently “putting in place a framework for how we will do more,” though he did not specify the exact steps the U.S. plans to take, urging the public to “stay tuned.”
But when asked specifically about a timeline, with host Chuck Todd highlighting countries like Brazil in the midst of devastating outbreaks, Blinken said the U.S. wants to be “more comfortable” in its own rollout and at the point “where we’re confident that every American can be vaccinated.”
Though the U.S. has contracts for more than enough doses for every American and has already vaccinated a significant portion of its population, including 78.1% of those over 65 (who have received at least one dose), Blinken said there are a few factors experts are weighing before they take further action.
“We have to keep in mind that we’re going to have a need, and hopefully soon, to be able to vaccinate teenagers [and] ultimately vaccinate children,” said Blinken, continuing: “We also have to keep in mind the possibility that people will need booster shots.”
Without giving any specifics on when, he said the U.S. is “getting to that point” where it feels it can more readily aid the rest of the world.
“Our first responsibility is to the American people, and the president’s been very clear about that. But that’s also a benefit to the world,” Blinken said, adding: “I think when all is said and done, you will see the United States as the leading country around the world in making sure that everyone has access to vaccines.”
Blinken highlighted that the U.S. already has multiple efforts underway to help boost access to the vaccine, including a $4 billion financial commitment to COVAX, an international consortium that produces and distributes vaccines in developing countries, as well as limited shipments of AstraZeneca to neighbors Canada and Mexico and a pledge to help expand production in Asia. However, the Biden administration has so far refused to send doses of the three vaccines being produced in the U.S. to countries in need, and has resisted calls to wave the intellectual property laws that are preventing other countries from mimicking the vaccines. Top officials in the Biden administration have highlighted the need to move quickly with aid, including Gayle Smith, who was recently appointed to oversee the U.S.’s international response on Covid-19 for the state department. At the organization she previously ran, the ONE Campaign, Smith called on the U.S. to begin sharing its supply abroad once 20% of the U.S. population was vaccinated (a milestone that has been reached). Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday warned of the potential economic impact of the U.S. waiting to help poorer countries. “Unless we act now, the world is susceptible to the emergence of a deepening global divergence between rich and poor countries,” she said.