COVID funding has been removed from the Government Funding Bill. Now what?

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President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response has been mixed in his first year. As vaccines went into millions and millions of weapons, the administration’s communications about them were inconsistent and its lack of testing resources during the winter, the Omicron surge made a bad situation worse.

And just this week, Congress pulled a proposed $15.6 billion COVID-19 funding package from the government’s spending bill, leaving Biden’s latest pandemic plan in flux.

In the face of Republican opposition over new COVID-19-related spending, Democrats withdrew emergency aid package, which was already lower than the $22.5 billion initially proposed, compared to the broader spending bill of $1.5 trillion. The move came as the Biden administration warned that the nation’s stockpile of COVID-19 monoclonal antibody drugs was depleted and its testing and vaccine capacities were underfunded.

“This is an urgent request,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a news conference last week, ultimately to no avail.

Republicans in Congress have called for COVID-19 funds to be offset, leading Democrats to withdraw the package entirely. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suggested Congress could still pass COVID-19 funding in a stand-alone bill, but its future is unclear.

In the wake of all this, public health experts have expressed growing concern that the United States is beginning to refer to the pandemic in the past, even as future threats such as new variants and surges remain a possibility. .

“Now that cases are coming down, masks are coming off, and it’s very clear that the public is ready to move on, it’s really time to plan for what the next iteration of COVID-19 might look like as well. than planning for future pandemics,” mentioned Rachel Nuzum, Vice President of Federal and State Health Policy at the Commonwealth Fund. “We don’t want to plan for future pandemics in the middle of a crisis.”

Nuzum said the lack of funding is a sign of a larger problem: a lack of consistent funding for public health in the United States. Since the pandemic began, Congress has channeled $370 billion in pandemic relief, including funds for health care providers and for testing and vaccines. But all that money has been spent — and without additional support, the United States runs the risk of exposing itself to future pandemic threats.

“Public health funding in the United States has been characterized by this feast or famine cycle,” Nuzum explained. “The federal government has responded to the COVID-19 crisis by providing unprecedented amounts of money to state and local jurisdictions, which has been a very extreme blow to the public health funding cycle. But then the money started to withdraw.

Nuzum characterized the country’s data capabilities, testing infrastructure and public health workforce as desperately in need of additional investment and stable funding moving forward.

“We have an opportunity to reflect on how these resources can serve as an investment that reflects lessons learned from COVID-19, but also goes far beyond COVID-19,” Nuzum said.

She added that there are still huge disparities between communities that are fully vaccinated and those that are not, noting that “this idea of ​​moving on and putting this behind us doesn’t account for those communities.” . That doesn’t mean we haven’t quite gotten to where we want to be in terms of immunization goals. »

As the volume of COVID-19 cases has declined in the United States, most cities and states have relaxed mask mandates and other restrictions. In nine guidelinesthe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, based on certain measurements, masks would not be necessary for the majority of the American population.

Yet President Biden recently issued a new pandemic plan which focused on four main objectives: protecting and treating COVID-19, preparing for new variants, preventing economic shutdowns and maintaining the pace of vaccinations. The $15.6 billion taken off the spending bill was largely to be spent on the stable supply of monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19.

At this time, it’s unclear whether more COVID-19 funding will be forthcoming, let alone whether Democrats will find a way to pass a standalone package. But Nuzum stressed that the conversation about financing public health should continue, and with urgency.

“What we know for sure is that funding our public health care system only in times of crisis is a really short-sighted way to do it,” she said. “It’s like buying water bottles to fill hydrants: if you do that when the fire is already burning, you’re so far behind the threat that it’s really hard to contain it.”

This story first appearance at mmm-online.com.

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