June 4, 2023

U.S. federal COVID funding is starting to run out As massive government investments in vaccines, treatments and testing vanish, epidemiologists are bracing for a major change — some would say “collapse” — key to containing SARS Effort – CoV-2 virus.

Vaccine programs could take the biggest hit. With government funding coming to an end, Americans will have to start paying for their COVID vaccinations — a disincentive that could further dampen the country’s mid-range vaccination rates, Currently in a stable state 67% were “completely” vaccinated, usually with two doses of the messenger RNA vaccine.

Another possible victim is COVAX, an international vaccine alliance that buys vaccines for poorer countries. Even before the looming U.S. funding crunch, COVAX was struggling. Now, the existing dose shortage will get worse.

Finally, the loss of federal funding could delay or even halt efforts to develop new universal coronavirus vaccines that could fight current and future variants. Experts are pinning their hopes on a universal vaccine to help people defeat the evolving virus. Without this new vaccine, we would have been catching up.

Politics are to blame for the coming cash crunch. “Congress is acting as if the COVID-19 pandemic is over, which is far from the truth,” Lawrence Gostin, a global health expert at Georgetown University, told The Daily Beast.

Not every expert agrees that too little federal funding is being planned. Eric Bortz, an epidemiologist at the University of Alaska Anchorage, told The Daily Beast: “In the short term, I think the resources the U.S. has devoted to the public health response to COVID-19 will remain constant.”

But there’s no denying that the pipeline is shrinking — a lot.

In the first year of the pandemic, there was broad political consensus in Washington, D.C., that the federal government should bear most of the cost of the country’s response to the pandemic.

In 2020, the Republican Senate and Democratic House of Representatives agreed — signed by Republican President Donald Trump — for more than $2.5 trillion in spending to develop and produce vaccines and treatments, ramp up testing, support businesses and keep the economy shut down temporarily. , personal solvency.

In early 2021, incoming President Joe Biden and narrow Senate and House Democrats used a budget stunt called a “reconciliation” to quickly transfer another $2 trillion to the U.S. COVID-related spending passed the law. But Republican support is waning — and it’s not hard to see why. “Public health” and “vaccine” became dirty words in the conspiratorial, anti-government Republican base.

After the initial settlement, the toughness of the GOP made it nearly impossible for Biden to pass a huge spending bill without relying on an annual settlement. After all, most bills require 60 votes in the Senate, and Democrats have only 50 senators and the vice president. Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker.

When Biden finally passed his second settlement bill — a $750 billion inflation-cutting bill — through Congress in August — it largely paid for Medicare subsidies and efforts to fight climate change. Biden and his allies in Congress have spent the spring haggling with Republicans for a modest $10 billion stimulus for vaccines, treatments and testing.

“COVID-19 won’t wait for Congress to negotiate,” White House said in april“Other countries will not wait. Timing is life. Congress must act urgently to help save more American lives and ensure we are prepared.”

But Republicans rejected it, and the bill died. The Biden administration has yet to try to revive the funding plan — in fact, it appears to have given up on doing so.

We are basically out of money now.

On Aug. 16, White House COVID response coordinator Ashish Jha said Biden forgoing federal COVID funding during an online event sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “One of the things that we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about over the past few months… is getting us out of the urgent emergency phase of the U.S. government buying vaccines, buying treatments, buying diagnostic tests,” Jha Say.

Previously, anyone in the US could get a COVID vaccine or booster or even a test kit for free thanks to government subsidies, but soon they will have to pay for everything. “I hope that in 2023, you will see the commercialization of almost all of these products,” explains Jha.

The funding collapse will be most pronounced when people go to get vaccinated, boosted or tested. In particular, Americans want COVID jabs to be free. What happens when all of a sudden they’re $50 or $100?

Vaccine uptake is expected to decline, while booster uptake is expected to decline further. “The Biden administration and [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] It’s hard to explain the urgency of the booster,” Peter Hotez, a vaccine development expert at Baylor College, told The Daily Beast. “Now, if funding comes with it, it’s only going to exacerbate the problem. “

The imminent end of federal COVID funding will also impact important long-term programs that the public won’t see.

On the one hand, the U.S. contribution to COVAX – according to some experts – is already insufficient and is likely to decline further. COVAX, a consortium of the World Health Organization, UNICEF and two epidemiological foundations including Gavi, was launched in April 2020. Its goal is to distribute 2 billion doses of the COVID vaccine by the end of 2021.

It’s nearly a billion fewer doses. Manufacturing issues are a factor, but so is funding. “We’re basically out of money now,” Gavi director Seth Berkley said. january says. The Biden administration has committed $4 billion and facilitated private financing through a federally-run investment agency.

The United States is COVAX’s largest donor, but not the most generous. Both Germany and Japan donated a larger share of GDP. Another big bet on U.S. money seems unlikely as Republicans tighten their purse strings.

That means fewer vaccines will be available in poorer countries as the pandemic enters its fourth year, and vaccination rates in the poorest countries remain low — 14% in Nigeria, for example, compared to 63% globally. Hungry COVAX “will only exacerbate global inequality,” Gostin said.

The collapse in federal funding could also disrupt ambitious efforts to develop a universal vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 and all other major coronaviruses, of which there are dozens. A pan-COVID jab should provide robust protection against successive SARS-CoV-2 variants, potentially for years.

This is an important project. “We’re going to have to come up with long-term vaccine solutions that don’t require chasing the latest variants,” James Lawler, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told The Daily Beast.

About a dozen major universal vaccines are in development. The two main efforts are at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations in Norway and the US government’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The latter obviously depends on federal funding. But there are also smaller efforts to invent a pan-COVID jab, including one from Duke University’s Human Vaccine Institute.

“Without government funding, the development of new and improved vaccines and medicines could slow significantly,” Gostin said. Without sustained federal investment, deployment of a universal vaccine could take years.In the worst case, developers in small labs may no way Complete their pan-COVID recipe.

Coronavirus is expensive. The pandemic has killed and disabled millions, costing them careers, disrupting businesses, disrupting travel and trade, and costing the world immeasurable amounts of money.

The trillions of dollars in spending scattered across the U.S. government over the years is arguably not a lot of money, considering how far these spending have mitigated the worst as the novel coronavirus ravages the world.

But even modest investments in U.S. and global health are winding down as politics trumps epidemiology. It’s hard to argue that a collapse in federal COVID funding will disrupt vaccine uptake and complicate efforts to develop new vaccines.The only question is how exactly a lot of Americans’ stingy new approach to public health will hurt them and everyone else.

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