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White House to make major decision on global Covid funding

FUNDS FOR COVID GLOBAL RESPONSE — The White House could decide to ask Congress for billions of dollars in additional funding for the administration’s 2022 global Covid-19 response as soon as this week, according to two senior officials with knowledge of the matter.

Money matters: That funding could be a lifeline for the United States Agency for International Development, the main federal agency helping low- and middle-income countries administer Covid-19 shots.

Over the past year, USAID has worked with the COVAX vaccine facility and other global health organizations to help countries worldwide ramp up their vaccination rates by training health staff and finding ways to store the shots and distribute them equitably.

As POLITICO first reported, the agency is running low on cash and needs more money to help fund the administration’s efforts to put more shots in arms across the world in 2022.

All in writing: In a letter to President Joe Biden last week, a group of Democrats on Capitol Hill asked the White House to issue a formal request for $17 billion in supplemental appropriations to aid the fight against Covid-19 abroad.

Negotiations between the White House and Congress are still underway, and lawmakers are working toward finalizing a top-line number for the Covid-19 relief package.

The White House proposed numbers for the global Covid-19 portions total $10.95 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter. The overall effort includes $1.65 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Center for Global Health; $9.32 billion for State and USAID; $2.2 billion of USAID’s Global VAX program; $3 billion to fund lifesaving supplies and health care workers; and $1 billion for humanitarian assistance.

Anxiety at USAID: Still, how much money USAID will receive from Congress and when the agency could tap into those funds are still in question. Much of the agency’s work on Covid-19 in 2022 will rely on that additional money, and officials inside USAID are increasingly anxious about having to put programs on hold, according to one senior administration official involved in the federal government’s vaccination efforts on the ground.

That same official said the Biden administration is internally focused on finding new ways to get shots into arms quicker, particularly in African countries — an effort that would rely heavily on USAID.


LIMITING COVID-19 ‘COLLATERAL DAMAGE’ — In the race to vaccinate people in low- and middle-income countries in 2022 against Covid-19, global health advocates have repeatedly sought more help from the international community to get shots in arms.

To that end, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) continues to work with on-the-ground health systems in the Middle East and Africa to help inoculate the local population and treat Covid-19 patients. The organization also treats patients when local health care systems are strained.

A ‘most useful tool’: MSF’s John Johnson, a medical vaccination referent, told Global Pulse the organization has seen a “big jump” in Covid infections in the countries it operates in, but it hasn’t “seen the level of severity that we may have seen earlier in the pandemic.” He said as many as 30 countries still need to significantly ramp up their vaccination rates to boost protection.

Vaccination is clearly the most useful tool we have right now in helping bring about the end of the pandemic. But we also see that there’s clearly limitations with them, as we see in Europe and Israel and other places around the world,” Johnson said, adding that “vaccination is not the only thing that will help stop the pandemic.

“We have to also work with people on other ways to do the control. That means continuing different practices of wearing masks, infection control and infection prevention,” he said.

Prioritizing vaccination: As the global health community strives to vaccinate 70 percent of the world’s population by mid-2022, Johnson said it will take more to get people immunized in countries where vaccination is not regarded as important.

“Priority is a big thing in many countries where we work. In some places, Covid really hasn’t been a huge public health priority, because it’s not a huge problem for their population,” Johnson said. “In Western Africa, for example, there’s very, very low rates of severe Covid. And while many people in the population may have had Covid, not many of them have it severely.”

Collateral damage: Johnson said MSF is working to limit “collateral damage” from the pandemic. “That’s one of our biggest concerns as a humanitarian organization,” Johnson said. “Because of the last few years of Covid, there’s been a very big drop in vaccination coverage for other vaccine-preventable diseases around the world. We’ve already seen outbreaks because not enough children have continued immunization.”

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