“Fostering Health Diplomacy in the Era of COVID-19”
Tuesday, December 8, 2020, 7:00 p.m.
Καλησπέρα σας. It’s a great pleasure to join my friend, UN Goodwill Ambassador Marianna Vardinoyiannis, for this important event. For the past 30 years, Marianna and her team at ELPIDA have helped thousands of Greek children and their families fight cancer.
My wife Mary and I have been fortunate to visit the Vardinoyiannis Oncology Clinic at the Children’s Hospital in Athens, where we witnessed firsthand the incredible, state-of-the-art facilities that ELPIDA has created. It’s an exemplary facility that employs some of the country’s top medical personnel.
Mary and I have also been able to spend time with the kids and families at the ELPIDA shelter. In fact, we hosted a Halloween party there two years ago – back when we were allowed to have parties – and I’ll always remember the warmth I felt among those little heroes. Marianna and ELPIDA have created a true home for those children where everyone is loved and cared for.
Our Embassy has been glad to support ELPIDA’s mission by helping it connect with the Greek American diaspora and with medical and academic institutions in the United States.
I felt particularly proud to join Marianna for the launch of the “Make Greece Compatible” campaign at the Thessaloniki International Fair in 2018, where we encouraged people to become bone marrow donors. This is another important initiative that will help thousands of children, and I am grateful that the Greek diaspora in the United States has embraced it.
Whether we’re together fighting childhood cancer or this unprecedented global pandemic, the need for transatlantic cooperation and health diplomacy has never been more important.
When Marianna and I presented Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla with the Prix Galien award for “Preeminent Greek Leader” of the global pharmaceutical industry last year, we had no idea what 2020 would bring, or just how much Albert would come to deserve that title.
Today, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is leading the fight against the pandemic, and we hope that it will soon become available to citizens in Greece and the United States.
This is a true success story for transatlantic cooperation. Pfizer is an American company with a Thessaloniki-born CEO, and it developed its vaccine with the German company BioNTech, run by a husband-and-wife team who are both children of immigrants.
Pfizer has also, of course, expanded its footprint in Albert’s hometown of Thessaloniki, and its innovation hub is recruiting dozens of talented graduates from Thessaloniki’s leading universities and helping to reverse the Greek brain drain.
I was very happy to hear Dr. Bourla announce last week that a Pfizer Services Center will also open in Thessaloniki to offer administrative, financial, operations, and human resources services for Pfizer hubs around the world.
The global health crisis has strengthened and validated the partnership between our two countries, as evidenced by the many American companies that have stepped up to help the Greek government and private sector respond to the pandemic.
I’m very proud of U.S. companies like Pfizer, Abbott Corporation, and Johnson & Johnson for helping to strengthen our health care cooperation with Greece, just as tech companies like Google, Cisco, and Microsoft have generously stepped up to offer remote work and learning solutions to Greek citizens.
The Embassy and I greatly appreciate how the Greek government and health sector have come together to fight this pandemic.
Earlier this year, Greece was one of the few countries chosen by Gilead Sciences to conduct clinical trials for Remdesivir as a possible therapy for COVID-19.
When I visited the AHEPA reference hospital in Thessaloniki this summer, I was so inspired to hear how scientists and doctors at that facility worked through the Greek Easter holiday to ensure that the results of those clinical trials were fed as quickly as possible into Gilead’s global efforts to fight the virus.
Across the United States, thousands of researchers and hundreds of laboratories continue to work with our world-leading pharma industry, and inside hundreds of academic and government labs, to identify new COVID-19 therapies and finalize vaccine approvals.
The end of the pandemic is in sight, but the struggle against childhood cancer remains a global health priority. So we must continue to collaborate, and I commend events like this for highlighting the necessity of strong health diplomacy.
We are truly all in this together, and we must work together to succeed. I’m confident that the trials we faced over this past year will strengthen the U.S.-Greece relationship even more and open new doors for innovations in treatment and collaboration.