CDA Remarks for Arrival of COVID-19 Vaccines Through COVAX

U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires a.i. Vernelle Trim FitzPatrick
Remarks for Arrival of COVID-19 Vaccines Through COVAX

Date: April 17, 2021
Location: Nsimalen International Airport

H.E. The Minister of Public Health,
Members of the Government of Cameroon,
Heads of Diplomatic Missions and Health Organizations,

It is with great pleasure that I stand with you to welcome the arrival of the first COVAX shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to Cameroon.  This is truly a great day.  This shipment of precious cargo represents a solid investment in the fight against an invisible threat that continues to ravage the world without any regard to borders.  I congratulate the government of Cameroon for doing all that was necessary to make this day happen.

The United States is committed to the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is the largest single donor supporting COVAX – a global initiative to support equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.  To date, our $2 billion in support represents nearly forty percent of all commitments to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, which has made possible this initial shipment of over 391,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Cameroon.  The United States will contribute an additional $2 billion to COVAX through 2022, for a total of $4 billion, as part of our commitment to global access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.

Promoting the health of ordinary Cameroonians is one of the top priorities for U.S. foreign assistance in Cameroon.  If you do not have health, you do not have anything else.  For this reason, we have worked side by side with Government of Cameroon health officials for years and have invested over half a billion dollars to strengthen the health system and fight HIV, TB, malaria and other diseases, including COVID-19.  Through that support, we have provided life-saving medications, training for medical personnel, support to health facilities, and improved health outcomes.

COVID-19 has shown us that no nation can act alone in the face of a pandemic. The United States has provided support for Cameroon’s COVID-19 response efforts by tapping the public health expertise of a great team here on the ground working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  As a result of our great partnership with our Cameroonian partners, we are helping to build capacity for emergency management, surveillance, laboratory testing, case management, infection prevention and control, and vaccine preparedness. As you can see from this list of capacity-building focus areas, there is much that has to happen behind the scenes to get vaccines into arms.  Since the start of the outbreak, we have contributed over $21 million for the COVID-19 response and humanitarian impact in Cameroon.

So what does this assistance look like in practice?  The National Public Health Emergency Operations Center – built and equipped with U.S. funds – was activated for the response and is coordinating national and subnational efforts.  Its staff, who are now leading this effort, received U.S. training in Public Health Emergency Management.  U.S. support to Cameroon’s laboratory capacity facilitated international accreditation of labs conducting COVID-19 testing in Cameroon.  This made Cameroon the first country in Central Africa able to do COVID-19 testing and helped establish a decentralized network of laboratories and field health workers in every region to facilitate testing nation-wide.  Over 900 disease detectives — trained through the U.S.-established Cameroon Field Epidemiology Training Program — are deployed across the ten regions of the country to conduct COVID-19 surveillance, contact tracing, and rapid response.

Now that vaccines are here, our public health experts are working in close collaboration with WHO and other health partners to support the National Coordination Committee for COVAX, the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group, and the Expanded Program on Immunization to develop national plans for vaccine deployment and communication.  Our technical experts are providing assistance to the Ministry of Public Health to develop vaccine safety surveillance, monitoring and evaluation, and support to encourage individuals to become vaccinated, and manage logistics and cold chain storage.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and with new variants emerging, it is critical that we vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.  Getting the Astrazeneca vaccine here is just half of the battle.  The other half of the battle is based on getting individuals to take it.  That is really the hard part.  Unfortunately, in all of our countries we have to tackle vaccine hesitancy.

One of my favorite quotes from a U.S. leader is the declaration from President John F. Kennedy, who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  This quote applies here with the arrival of the Astrazeneca vaccines.  My message to all Cameroonians is “Let’s get vaccinated for our protection and that of our loved ones for a COVID-19 free Cameroon.”