"Today, we mark a tragic milestone: one million American lives lost to COVID-19," President Biden said on Thursday. Biden co-hosted a global COVID-19 summit Thursday, announcing new U.S. support for worldwide anti-COVID-19 efforts as he called on Congress to renew COVID-19 funding. File Photo by Rod Lamkey /UPI | License Photo
May 12 (UPI) -- At a virtual summit on Thursday to further global COVID-19 measures, President Joe Biden ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff to remember all the Americans who have died of the virus over the past two years -- a toll that he said now exceeds 1 million.
Biden and other world leaders participated in the second COVID-19 summit. The first was held last summer and produced key strategies to fight the outbreak.
"This pandemic isn't over," Biden said at the event Thursday.
"We're making available health technologies that are owned by the United States government, including stabilized spike protein that is used in many COVID-19 vaccines. We're standing up a new pilot program working with the global fund to expand access to rapid testing and anti-viral treatments for people in harder to reach areas."
Biden said the United States will keep sharing critical COVID-19 technologies through the World Health Organization, and make a $450 million contribution to a pandemic preparedness and health security fund at the World Bank this summer.
"The United States has provided more than $19 billion to help countries fight COVID-19 all around the world," he added. "We have provided life-saving medicines, oxygen, tests, equipment, supplies and partnered with countries to improve their capacity to manufacture vaccines."
For weeks, the president has been urging Congress to authorize more support funds. At the summit, he said lawmakers should take urgent and vital action and maintain critical life-saving supplies.
A mobile COVID-19 testing site is seen in New York City on February 8. President Biden and other leaders have said the world appears to have become complacent about the pandemic, which may bring on more waves of infections later this year. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
To date, the United States has provided more than 500 million vaccine doses to 115 countries and is working on another 500 million.
"Today, we're at a new stage in fighting this pandemic, facing an evolving set of challenges, " Biden said. "We have to double down on our efforts to get shots in people's arms, country by country, community by community and ensure we have a reliable supply of vaccines and boosters for everyone, everywhere."
More global commitment is needed, he said, to end the pandemic and be better prepared for similar emergencies in the future.
In a statement before the summit, Biden cautioned Americans against becoming "numb" to the crisis and said the U.S. death toll has ticked above the 1 million mark.
"Today, we mark a tragic milestone: one million American lives lost to COVID-19. One million empty chairs around the dinner table. Each an irreplaceable loss. Each leaving behind a family, a community, and a nation forever changed because of this pandemic. Jill and I pray for each of them," he said.
"As a nation, we must not grow numb to such sorrow. To heal, we must remember. We must remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible, as we have with more testing, vaccines, and treatments than ever before. It's critical that Congress sustain these resources in the coming months."
Biden's administration projected last week that coronavirus cases will surge later this year during the fall and winter months -- and with waning vaccine immunity, health experts say there could be a rise in infections and hospitalizations and more deaths.
Ahead of Thursday's summit, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a World Health Organization ambassador on health finance, said the world has become "complacent." In particular, he noted, the international community has fallen far short of its goal to vaccinate 70% of all countries.
"Tragically, we are sleepwalking into the next variant, and political leaders are still not listening to the medical advice that is still there -- that we've got to increase vaccination, continue to test at a high level, and provide the new treatments available," he said in a statement.
At the first summit last September, Biden pledged an increase of 500 million vaccine doses that took the total U.S. commitment to 1 billion.
This year, Biden enters the summit without success in obtaining $22 billion in immediate emergency funds that he sought from Congress in March -- which included $5 billion for global aid.
In a statement Monday, the president said that congressional leaders have told him that plans for the additional aid risked delaying the war in Ukraine -- where the United States has also committed billions in aid.