As Senators prepare to return to their home states on July 4thth Holiday, it is frustrating that we have once again set out to provide the funds needed to combat the ongoing COVID pandemic. For months the government, scientists and health experts have been sounding the alarm that we do not have the resources we need to stay ahead of this virus. And with COVID, if you don’t get ahead of it, you’re slipping back to the detriment of all Americans.
To keep our recovery afloat, we robbed Peter to pay Paul. Earlier this month, the administration announced it would repurpose $10 billion allocated by Congress to support the purchase of additional vaccines and additional therapeutics as our supplies ran low.
This was necessary. Projections suggest that as many as 100 million Americans — nearly 1 in 3 — will be infected or re-infected with COVID this fall and winter as our immunity to the disease wanes. The President requested COVID funding three months ago, and our colleagues across the aisle blocked the funding. With no new funds approved by Congress, the administration was left with no choice but to reallocate $10 billion, which experts say is woefully insufficient to prepare for the surge ahead.
But this decision will have consequences. To pay for these vaccines and therapeutics, the government took funds from research into the next generation of vaccines and to maintain our testing capacity. It wasn’t, as some Republican members have implied, excess cash just to go. This means that when the next storm surge hits the country, we won’t have the resources to ensure people can be tested. Have we already forgotten the insane scramble to drive from pharmacy to pharmacy to find a rapid test to be able to safely spend the holidays with our loved ones 6 months ago? This means that as new variants emerge, we will not have the resources to adequately continue the groundbreaking research we support into next-generation vaccines.
And – fueled by our dwindling immunity and inadequate vaccination efforts abroad – new variants will emerge and present us with new threats here at home. The desperate measures taken by the administration in the absence of any action by Congress are doing nothing to support a global vaccination effort that is heating up. The United States Agency for International Development, which manages our global response to the COVID pandemic, has already committed more than 95 percent of the funds at their disposal. Soon they will have no choice but to start phasing out their vaccine supplies, which means more mutations, more variants, more infections, and more deaths at home and abroad.
In conclusion, I would like to make it clear that we will not have time to act later. This is not a problem that can be solved by flipping a switch. To manufacture the tens of millions of doses of vaccines and therapeutics needed to prepare for a plunge surge, the government and biotech companies must start buying supplies now. And the longer we wait, the further we fall behind when other countries place their orders before us.
We can’t wait to see what happens. That’s why we weren’t prepared for this pandemic at all – because we refused to invest in preparing for the worst.
So, like many others, I am frustrated that we are leaving town again without addressing this looming crisis. Since March, I have repeatedly called on us to act. As Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will continue to make these demands and fight for these much-needed resources.
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