U.S. appoints special envoy for COVID vaccine and prevention efforts

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a visit by U.S. President Joe Biden to the State Department in Washington, U.S.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has appointed a former veteran diplomat and humanitarian aid chief to be a special envoy for U.S. coronavirus vaccine and prevention efforts.

Blinken announced Monday that he had named Gayle Smith to be America’s Global COVID-19 coordinator as the Biden administration ramps up its efforts to combat the virus at home and abroad.

“She’s tested. She’s highly respected. She will hit the ground running,” Blinken said. “And I can say from having worked with Gayle and admired her for years, that no one will work harder, faster, or more effectively to get us to the finish line.”

Smith is a former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development and has held senior State Department and National Security Council positions focused on Africa. She was active in the Obama administration’s initiatives to eradicate the Ebola virus and was most recently the president of the ONE Campaign, the organization founded by U2 frontman Bono and others to combat extreme poverty and diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

In her new job, Smith will be charged with overseeing U.S. programs to prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks, including COVID-19, abroad.

Also Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a White House briefing that U.S. “cases are increasing nationally, and we are seeing this occur predominately in younger adults.”

At the same time, she pointed to positive developments among the most vulnerable age group, saying senior citizens’ virus deaths have reached their lowest levels since the early fall.

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