COO Marchick and Gayle E. Smith's Digital Press Briefing on U.S. Support for COVID-19 Vaccines in Africa

July 1, 2021

Moderator: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining this discussion. Today, we are very pleased to be joined by Gayle E. Smith, State Department Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security, and David Marchick, Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation. Ms. Smith and Mr. Marchick will discuss the United States’ support for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing and production on the African continent.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Ms. Smith and Mr. Marchick, then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the briefing.

If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #AFHubPress and follow us on twitter @AfricaMediaHub.

As a reminder, today’s call is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Gayle E. Smith, State Department Coordinator for Global COVID-19 Response and Health Security. Ms. Smith, your opening remarks.

Ms. Smith: Thank you very much, and good afternoon, everybody, and thank you for all the great work you’re doing to cover this important and really vital story. Let me just provide a little bit of background on our strategy on the response to COVID, and particularly vaccines. The United States is mounting a comprehensive response on everything from the vaccine side to the humanitarian impacts and the longstanding economic impacts. This involves multiple agencies and departments from across the federal government.

For obvious reasons, vaccines and the urgency of vaccine delivery is the top of our agenda right now. On that front, we are doing several things. First, we are the largest donor to COVAX, the international vaccine platform that is delivering all over the world. Second, President Biden has announced that we are sharing 80 million vaccine doses from our own supply, and we will be sharing more. Those vaccines are now in the process of delivery to various countries and will continue to roll out over the coming days and weeks. The President also announced just prior to the G7 summit that the United States is purchasing and will donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Even as we do those things, we’re quite concerned about the availability of supply and want to do what we can to ramp up that supply so that as many countries as possible can be covered as quickly as possible. One part of that is urging the major producers to increase their production, and a second, very vital part of that which we want to talk to you about today is doing what we can to increase local production so that there’s more availability in more places.

For that, let me turn it over to my colleague, David Marchick, to explain an exciting and very important announcement from us. David?

Mr. Marchick: Great. Thanks so much, Gayle, and thanks to everybody for joining. And again, I thank the reporters for covering this important issue. I want to give just my kudos to Gayle. She’s doing a fantastic, extraordinary job in her role as Coordinator of Global COVID Response. She is advising both the President and the Secretary of State on all of our global issues related to this, and it’s been an honor and privilege to work with her. And Gayle has helped architect our strategy for manufacturing around the world in developing countries.

So I’m pleased today to be with you to share some details about the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation’s, or DFC’s, work to finance vaccine manufacturing and distribution globally, and especially in Africa. And this is a particularly important initiative to help Africa develop manufacturing in Africa for Africa.

So I think that everybody is aware of the extraordinary threat that COVID-19 poses to the lives and livelihoods in Africa, with 4.7 million confirmed cases so far and unconfirmed cases much likely higher. One of the challenges in Africa is not enough manufacturing, challenging logistical and supply chains, and limited resources to produce or obtain vaccines. That’s why today, we’re announcing that our agency, the Development Finance Corporation, in cooperation with the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank, our French colleagues, and our German colleagues – the German development bank and the French development bank, which are called DEG and Proparco – will together provide long-term, stable financing to Aspen Pharmacare to better enable them to support the pandemic response in South Africa and, importantly, across the continent.

So our consortium of development finance institutions will provide a direct loan to Aspen to, among other things, strengthen their balance sheet with long-term financing, support vaccine production, and expand their operations with core operations based in South Africa. Now, this loan will help them increase capacity to support Aspen’s efforts to produce vaccines for the continent this year and next year.

This production will help meet the African Union’s goal of 400 million doses of Stringent Regulatory Authorization or World Health Organization Emergency Use Listing vaccines, including the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. And I would say that our work today shows the power of collaboration with the IFC and with our partners in France, in Germany, and Africa. It comes at a critical time because Africa has the lowest rate of vaccination on the – in any region, 1 percent of Africa’s 1.1 billion people. And this is the second manufacturing announcement we’ve had of manufacturing in developing countries. We’ve already backed a company in India called Biological E to help them increase capacity and produce at least a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of next year, and we have other projects in the works, including in Africa.

So this is a critical initiative that will allow Aspen to help ramp up productions, have long-term, stable debt, and help fulfill President Biden’s goal of ending the pandemic. So thank you very much and we’re happy to take any questions.

Read the full transcript, including Q&A session, here.