The Biden administration has tapped Gayle Smith, who helped lead the Obama administration’s Ebola response, to serve as the coordinator for Global Covid Response and Health Security, Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced in remarks Monday that failed to offer concrete details about US plans to share vaccines with international partners.
The top US diplomat said that the United States would not “trade shots in arms for political favors,” but did not offer specific details on the administration’s plans to share vaccines more broadly beyond its immediate neighbors.
“This is about saving lives,” Blinken said during his remarks. “We’ll treat our partner countries with respect.”
Blinken also outlined other “core values” he said would guide the State Department’s plans, in what appeared to be a swipe at Russia and China.
“We won’t overpromise and underdeliver. We’ll maintain high standards for the vaccines that we help to bring to others, only distributing those proven to be safe and effective. We’ll insist on an approach built on equity,” he said.
Blinken said that as the Biden administration gets "more confident" about vaccine supply domestically, they are looking at options for sharing vaccines with other countries. He said that would happen "soon" but did not give details as to when that would begin.
Blinken spoke highly of the new global Covid envoy, saying, “she’s tested, she’s highly respected, she will hit the ground running.”
“And I can say from having worked with Gayle and admired her for years that no one will work harder, faster or more effectively to get us to the finish line,” he said.
Smith, who served in the Obama and Clinton administrations and leads the ONE Campaign, a global anti-disease and anti-poverty organization, said she faces two challenges.
“First, to shorten the lifespan of a borderless pandemic that is destroying lives and livelihoods all over the world. And the second is to ensure that we can prevent, detect, and respond to those future global health threats we know are coming. American leadership is desperately needed, and I’m extremely confident we can rise to the occasion,” she said.
The ONE Campaign said Smith is “on temporary assignment to the State Department."
In his remarks, Blinken also noted that the United States would “keep pushing for a complete and transparent investigation into the origins of this epidemic, to learn what happened, so it doesn't happen again.”
Last week, the US and 13 other countries released a joint statement raising questions about a World Health Organization report on the deadly pandemic’s origins and calling for independent and fully transparent evaluations, and the European Union called for better access for researchers and further investigation.