Washington, D.C. – Today, Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, submitted the following to the record as the Committee held a hearing entitled “A Year Out: Addressing International Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The Chairman submitted the following remarks to the record:
“First, I’d like to thank Ranking Member McCaul for his partnership in hosting today’s hearing, as well as all the Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee for working collectively to bring attention to the international aspect of our COVID response.
“Since COVID-19 was first detected, the W.H.O. estimates at least 2.6 million people have died from the disease worldwide. The shutdowns put in place to slow the spread of the disease triggered the deepest global recession since World War II, kept over 1.5 billion children out of the classroom and pushed at least 88 million people into extreme poverty. In dollars and cents - the pandemic has cost the global economy $28 trillion in lost output through 2025 and erased more than 400 million full-time jobs in the first half of 2020 alone.
“Those are the statistics, but no number alone tells the full story of the heartbreak and trauma this virus has caused. I witnessed first hand the devastation this pandemic has caused. My community of Southeast Queens was the epicenter of the first outbreak here in the United States. I saw refrigerated trucks have to be used to store our dead.
“However, we are now seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Millions are being vaccinated every day - to date, more than 300 million vaccine doses have been administered around the globe. That does not mean we are out of the woods. Mutations are causing COVID variants that are proving more transmissible, more deadly, and possibly more resilient. The United States must diplomatically engage partners, allies, and others - both directly and through multilaterals - to develop, produce, and distribute vaccines, and support efforts to address the effects of COVID-19.
“So long as the virus continues to replicate and mutate abroad, we will be made less safe here at home. As vaccines increasingly become available, we must examine how the U.S. can ensure equity in their development and distribution. The ONE Campaign estimates that rich countries will have up to 1 billion excess doses of COVID vaccines, and just as we see here in the U.S., we cannot be fully safe until we have widespread vaccination.
“Engaging with COVAX, the multilateral platform for COVID vaccine distribution, is an important first step, but as more vaccines become available for Americans, we must do what we can to assist other countries in having access to vaccines as well. However, we are not the only nation capable of providing access to vaccines. It is vital that we diplomatically engage with our allies, partnering in the distribution of vaccines to countries with fewer resources. Otherwise, those nations may feel the need to accept Russian and Chinese assistance, which are using vaccine diplomacy to widen their influence.
“We have also seen the ways in which misinformation about the virus and the efforts to combat it can lead to vaccine hesitancy and hamper our progress in overcoming it. Making sure the public receives a clear, accurate understanding of COVID-19 and its vaccines from trusted voices in the community must be part of the global response.
“We also recognize that this coronavirus is the latest in a growing trend of outbreaks that threaten to spread rapidly and have devastating impacts. Recent outbreaks of SARS, Ebola, Zika, and COVID have all brought home lessons in pandemic preparedness, but they must be taken to heart. Global health security is in America’s interest - preparing now for what will inevitably come is essential for our national security.
“Last week, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, landmark legislation that will provide Americans with the support they need to recover from the economic, health, social, and other impacts of this pandemic.
"Included in the package is $10 billion for international efforts, which is desperately needed for global health support on vaccines, humanitarian assistance to combat COVID’s impacts in crisis areas, and economic relief to make sure that we don’t lose the hard-fought development gains the U.S. has helped create over the years in education, economic opportunity, water and sanitation, food security, and human rights.
“It is our responsibility as Congress to oversee this funding, to make sure it’s provided quickly and responsibly, to maximum effect. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on this, identifying the greatest impacts that COVID has had on these sectors, and how might we best respond.”