Health Care

USAID head: Lack of new funds would ‘devastate’ global virus effort

Samantha Power, nominee to be Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development
Greg Nash

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power on Thursday called on Congress to provide funding for global COVID-19 vaccination efforts, warning of cutbacks the agency would have to make without new money.  

Without new funds, USAID would be unable to extend its Global VAX program to help vaccinate people in over 20 additional under-vaccinated countries, Power said.  

“This will devastate our ability to make sure those countries can effectively deploy safe and effective vaccines,” she said in a statement.  

“We ask Congress to promptly provide the Administration with the urgent funding we need to continue this work of both vaccinating the world and protecting Americans at home,” she added.  

Power’s statement also comes as the administration announced it has delivered 500 million vaccine doses to other countries, out of more than 1.2 billion pledged.  

While much of the attention has focused on the damage to the domestic response without new COVID-19 funding, some of the money would also be used for vaccination efforts abroad, which experts say are also in the U.S. interest by helping prevent dangerous new variants from forming.  

The government funding package last week would have included $15.6 billion to fight the virus, $5 billion of which would have gone towards global efforts.  

That funding was stripped out, though, after a group of House Democrats objected to one of the ways to pay for it, rescinding a fraction of state aid from a previous relief package. Senate Republicans are insisting that any COVID-19 money be paid for, leaving no clear path forward for the funding.  

The White House has previously warned of damage to domestic efforts like cutbacks to monoclonal antibody treatments and tests.  

But with only about 13 percent of people in low-income countries vaccinated, global efforts are also urgent.

While the supply of vaccine doses themselves is improving somewhat, many countries face daunting challenges in getting those shots into arms. Assistance can help with having the proper freezers for storage, transportation, and combatting misinformation and vaccine hesitancy.  

“Without additional funding to support getting shots into arms, USAID will have to curtail our growing efforts to turn vaccines into vaccinations—just as countries are finally gaining access to the vaccine supplies needed to protect their citizens,” Power said. “Leaving large unvaccinated populations both at home and worldwide will increase the risk of new and potentially deadly variants emerging that could evade our current vaccines and treatments.” 

The $5 billion under consideration in Congress is well below what some advocates and Democratic lawmakers say is needed to meet global vaccination needs. But even that amount is in jeopardy amid Congress’s feud over the spending.  

Tags COVID-19 global vaccine effort Samantha Power USAID Vaccine

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