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The fight over domestic COVID funding is holding back global vaccination

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Today marks the second anniversary of the World Health Organization’s determination that COVID-19 is officially a pandemic. Almost 6 million people have died from COVID-19 worldwide including nearly 1 million Americans

We may never understand the true toll of this virus — the families broken, the jobs lost, not to mention the survivors who are dealing with the effects and uncertainty of long COVID. It is important to mourn and reflect on the more than 6 million individuals worldwide who have died from the pandemic. But let us do more to honor their memories, let’s use this as a day for action. 

If we ever hope to see this pandemic end and have the peace of mind that there isn’t another one around the corner, we must act now to invest in global vaccination and prevention for a pandemic-free future.

As Congress nears its March 15 deadline to pass a five-month overdue budget for fiscal year 2022, much-needed funds for both domestic and global COVID response are currently missing in the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package

The House passed the omnibus spending bill late Wednesday evening without the original promise of $15.6 billion intended for COVID response. The bill now heads to the Senate where it faces an uphill battle. Just last week 36 senators saw fit to hold new COVID relief hostage against previous COVID relief that had already been enacted, insisting on seeing a full accounting of past spending before moving forward.

With no plan for securing additional funds for COVID response in the Senate, this new update calls into question the viability of the president’s pandemic response plan. Biden joined the world last year in setting a clear target to vaccinate 70 percent of the world by September 2022. This aggressive goal is what it will take to stop new variants, and is the only action that will finally allow us to bring a decisive end to this pandemic. And yet, more action remains to be seen. 

To achieve this goal, we need robust, targeted funding. We are desperately short of the $17-$19 billion that is necessary to meet the need for global vaccination, something that Right to Health Action (along with 70+ other organizations and USAID) have been fighting for. Eighty members of Congress have already asked appropriators for the necessary $17 billion for global vaccines, in addition to a bipartisan letter addressed to President Biden sent by 14 senators urging action to vaccinate the world. 

Despite strong bipartisan support for global vaccination, disagreements over domestic COVID funds have compromised the passage of urgently needed global COVID funds. The United States’ investment in the global COVID response is minimal compared to domestic spending. In fact, only 0.34 percent of COVID relief funds thus far have been allocated for the global response. The United States must demonstrate more leadership to end this pandemic. 

We need Congress to move a global COVID vaccine supplemental with the omnibus, separate from the contested domestic funding request. We don’t have time to waste with the BA.2 variant wave already upon us, one that is worse than, and outpacing omicron. The same variant that currently has Hong Kong in lockdown with overflowing hospitals and morgues and that is surging in England is already in the U.S.  We can expect to see our own BA.2 surge by late April or May.  

Time is running out and we cannot afford to lose this opportunity to act.  

Congress needs to deliver on the promises made to the American people on a global stage. If not, voters will remember how Congress failed to pass crucial COVID funds as we approached the second anniversary of the pandemic. With the midterm elections fast approaching, we will hold our representatives accountable at the ballot box. 

Akshita Siddula is managing director at Right to Health Action and an Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity at George Washington University. The opinions expressed are her own.

Tags COVID-19 pandemic in the United States COVID-19 vaccine Joe Biden Joe Biden Pandemic U.S. federal government response to the COVID-19 pandemic United Nations response to the COVID-19 pandemic World Health Organization

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