White House official: It’s in ‘national interest’ to vaccinate world against COVID-19
White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients on Tuesday said it’s in the U.S.’s “national interest” to vaccinate the world against COVID-19 to protect against potential new variants, days after senators dropped global funding from a coronavirus spending deal.
“It is a real disappointment that there’s no global funding in this bill. This virus knows no borders, and it’s in our national interest to vaccinate the world and protect against possible new variants,” Zients said during a White House COVID-19 briefing.
“Without additional funding for a global response, we won’t have resources to help get more shots in arms in countries in need,” he added.
Zients’s comments come after senators announced on Monday that they reached a deal to allocate $10 billion in funding to combat COVID-19. The agreement, however, omits money for the global virus response.
The initial proposal, worth $15.6 billion, included $5 billion for global vaccine efforts, but the money was nixed from the final deal because of disagreements over how to pay for it. The White House initially requested $22.5 billion in funding.
The COVID-19 funding deal announced on Monday hit a roadblock on Tuesday when Republicans blocked the Senate from advancing the agreement because of a separate disagreement over a Title 42, a public health policy implemented under the Trump administration that allows migrants to be expelled at the border because of COVID-19 concerns.
The Biden administration rescinded the controversial measure on Friday. Republicans are now pushing for a vote to block the administration from revoking Title 42.
Experts have said vaccinating the world is essential to preventing the formation of new variants that could eventually spread to the U.S. Advocates and some Democratic lawmakers had pressed for more global funding.
The U.S. has already provided more than 515 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to upward of 110 countries, according to the State Department.
Zients on Tuesday said the deficiency in global funding “has real implications on our efforts to vaccinate the world.”
“Without the additional global funding, [the United States Agency for International Development] does not have the resources it needs to help countries get more shots in arms,” Zients said.
“We’ll be forced to scale back the work that we do to provide oxygen and other lifesaving supplies to countries that need them. Our global genomic sequencing capabilities will fall off, and that undermines our ability to detect emerging variants beyond our borders,” he added.
The COVID-19 response coordinator again emphasized that it is in the U.S.’s interest to vaccinate the globe to protect against the emergence of variants in the future.
“It’s a real disappointment to not have any global funding in this bill. It has real implications. We need funding as quickly as possible. Congress needs to act with urgency to fund our global response so that we can accelerate our efforts to turn vaccines — we do have vaccine supply. We need to turn those vaccines into vaccinations around the world,” he added.
Zients announced in March that he will depart from his post at the White House this month to return to private life. Ashish Jha, a public health expert who currently serves as dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, will assume the position.