Biden administration appoints Gayle Smith as global vaccine co-ordinator

Smith will spearhead efforts to distribute vaccines to low-income countries

Gayle Smith speaks after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced her appointment as the new State Department Coordinator for Global COVID Response and Health Security during an event on US leadership in fighting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic at the State Department in Washington, DC on April 5, 2021.  / AFP / POOL / ALEXANDER DRAGO
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The Biden administration on Monday appointed Gayle Smith, a former administrator at the US Agency for International Development, to spearhead a new effort to ensure that low-income countries receive Covid-19 vaccines crucial to ending the global pandemic.

“Our challenges now are two,” Ms Smith said in remarks at the State Department after Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced her appointment. “First, to shorten the lifespan of a borderless pandemic that is destroying lives and livelihood all over the world. And the second is to ensure that we can prevent, detect and respond to those future global health threats that we know are coming.”

“American leadership is desperately needed and I’m extremely confident we can rise to the occasion.”

Ms Smith helped co-ordinate the response to the Ebola epidemic that swept through West Africa in 2014 while serving as a member of former president Barack Obama’s National Security Council.

Afterwards, Mr Obama appointed Ms Smith to lead the US Agency for International Development in 2015.

Most recently, Ms Smith has served as the president and chief executive of the non-profit One Campaign, which aims to fight preventable diseases and extreme poverty in developing countries.

The One Campaign has urged the Biden administration to donate a share of vaccines abroad, noting that the US has procured at least 453 million excess shots. President Joe Biden has set a new goal of vaccinating 200 million people in the country by the end of his first 100 days in office.

“Even if we vaccinate all 332 million people in the United States tomorrow, we would still not be fully safe from the virus – not while it’s still replicating around the world and turning into new variants that could easily come here and spread across our communities again,” Mr Blinken said before introducing Ms Smith.

Despite Ms Smith’s appointment, the Biden administration has not yet unveiled a plan to distribute Covid-19 vaccines to developing countries.

“This will be an unprecedented global operation, involving logistics, financing, supply chain management, manufacturing, co-ordinating with community health workers who handle the vital last mile of healthcare delivery,” said Mr Blinken. “All of that will take intensive diplomacy. The world has never done anything quite like this before. This is a moment that calls for American leadership.”

“As we get more confident in our vaccine supply here at home, we are exploring options to share more with other countries going forward,” said Mr Blinken. “We believe we’ll be in a position to do much more on this front.”