Remarks of Dr. Alondra Nelson at White House Summit on the Future of COVID-19 Vaccines
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Dr. Jha. And welcome to the White House, everyone.
As Dr. Jha noted, I have the great privilege of leading the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP, where we work to maximize the benefits of science and technology to advance health, prosperity, security, environmental quality, and justice for all of America.
By founding mandate, OSTP is squarely focused on the future.
We envision how science and technology can help shape a safe, equitable, flourishing world by tackling the tough challenges we face today, anticipating the unknown opportunities and obstacles that may lay ahead, and driving boldly toward both discovery and solutions.
As we all know, we’re still dealing with COVID-19 and its permutations.
We also know there will be more pandemics.
We need to be ready for them.
In a letter he issued just before taking office, President Biden asked, “What can we learn from the pandemic about what is possible — or what ought to be possible — to address the widest range of needs related to our public health?”
And on his first day in office, the President issued two key Executive Orders: one on advancing equity, and one on strengthening the United States’ response to COVID-19 and leading the world on global health and security.
To answer the President’s questions and follow his directives, we’re taking steps to ensure that the United States is ready to respond effectively to future pandemics — and to iterations of this pandemic.
To do this, OSTP and our colleagues at the National Security Council, and the Domestic Policy Council, have been carrying out the work of our American Pandemic Preparedness Plan.
A key goal of this plan is to spur innovation in vaccine design, development, and manufacturing, preparing us for future COVID-19 variants and other infectious diseases.
Now, a short and instructive history lesson:
The mRNA technology — that led to two safe and effective COVID vaccines — is technology that our Department of Defense kickstarted almost a decade ago, through a public-private partnership to create a platform on which we could build a vaccine.
So, when the world shut down with COVID, we had a head start on a solution, with the fastest, safe vaccine deployment in history.
The world did it in 314 days. And we’re committed to cutting that time down to one hundred days, while maintaining our high quality and safety standards.
The COVID vaccines that some of you, in this room, helped create, have saved countless lives. We thank you for your tireless, extraordinary efforts.
These vaccines lowered the death toll, reduced the burdens on our frontline healthcare staff, and allowed our children’s education, our economy, and much of our lives, to rebound.
And it was federal scientific leadership, seeing future possibilities, taking risks, and investing in new technologies, that made it possible.
Now, we in the Biden-Harris Administration are working closely with global partners to accelerate development of broadly-protective, next-generation COVID vaccines.
With the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, we’re working to develop vaccines that can thwart pandemic pathogens, and save lives around the world.
With National Institutes of Health and BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, we’re supporting new private-sector innovations. Innovations like nasal sprays and skin patches, instead of needles, to administer vaccines in a more comfortable and accessible way so that everyone in America and around the world can readily benefit from them.
And across the federal government, we’re doing much more, to help protect people from COVID and other pandemic threats, working with the Environmental Protection Agency to PROMOTE ventilation and filtration that reduces the risk of transmission through indoor air, and working with the CDC on its new Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics, to bolster the potential to track wastewater and other indicators to better predict, monitor, and address infectious diseases and other public health threats.
Of course, we know there is so much more to do.
That’s why today, we’ll hear from transformative companies about how federal funding has helped them accelerate development of life-saving vaccines, and creatively solve problems, such as figuring out how to store and ship vaccines without needing refrigeration, so they remain shelf-stable and effective.
And we also know that developing safe and effective vaccines is only the beginning.
We cannot fall back on a mentality of, “if we build it, they will come.”
People around the world still face a range of barriers to getting these vaccines.
For people living in the world’s most remote or least-resourced places, it’s a challenge of availability and equitable access.
For others, it may be the understandable challenge of a history of exclusion and mistrust, or the challenge of being subjected to a flood of inaccurate information.
These inequities will persist beyond COVID, and in future pandemics, unless we adequately prepare and prioritize universal access to the innovations we’re designing, developing, and producing.
We need to make sure that the next generation of COVID vaccines is accessible to everyone.
That won’t be easy. But we must keep at it, because new vaccine technologies, themselves, won’t diminish people’s hesitation to get vaccinated.
We’ve done a great job of following the science. At the same time, we also must always follow social science, behavioral science, and adopt more evidence-based public health communication, too.
We need use every tool in our toolbox.
We can create a better future, where we develop effective vaccines within weeks of identifying a pathogen, where we support distributed manufacturing around the world, where every country has the resources to manufacture thousands of vaccine doses in only a few days.
That’s the future we’re all working to build. To get there, we have to continue to innovate, be creative, and propel great ideas forward into action — and, we must continue to fund those ideas, with support from Congress.
We at OSTP are here to marshal resources across the federal government, to improve health outcomes.
This fall, we will release the first annual progress report for the American Pandemic Preparedness Plan.
This report will determine our next steps for implementing system-wide changes, including closing science and technology gaps, addressing vulnerabilities, preparing for emerging pandemic threats, and enabling the type of innovation that we’re going to hear about today.
This work, at heart, is about taking care of one another. It’s about protecting ourselves, our loved ones, our friends and neighbors, and our fellow communities around the world.
It’s going to take all of us, working together, to achieve this audacious vision.
We need to transform our time horizons from years to days, just like we did with those first COVID vaccines.
We don’t have a moment to waste.
Now, our next speaker needs no introduction: Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, Dr. Anthony Fauci.