Leahy Statement On The Urgent Need For Additional COVID Funding

As Senators prepare to return to their home states for the July 4th holiday, it is frustrating that we have once again kicked the can down the road on providing the needed funding to address the ongoing COVID pandemic.  For months, the Administration, scientists, and health care experts have raised the alarm that we do not have the resources we need to stay ahead of this virus.  And with COVID, if you are not staying ahead of it, you are slipping behind, to the detriment of all Americans.

To keep our recovery afloat, we have robbed Peter to pay Paul.  Earlier this month, the Administration announced that it is repurposing $10 billion appropriated by Congress to help purchase additional vaccines and additional therapeutics because our stocks were running low.   

This was necessary.  Projections indicate 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 this disease wanes.  The President requested COVID funding three months ago and our colleagues across the aisle have blocked the funding.  Without new funding appropriated by Congress, the Administration was left with no choice but to repurpose $10 billion, which experts across the board agree is wholly insufficient to prepare for the coming surge. 

But this choice will have consequences.  To pay for these vaccines and therapeutics, the Administration took the funding from research for the next generation of vaccines and sustaining our testing capacity.  It was not, as some Republican members have indicated, excess cash that was there simply for the taking.  This means that as the next surge crashes over the country, we will not have the resources necessary to ensure that people can get tested.  Have we already forgotten the mad scramble, driving from pharmacy to pharmacy, to find a rapid test so that we could safely spend the holidays with our loved ones just 6 months ago?  It means that as new variants emerge, we will not have the necessary resources to adequately continue the ground breaking research we have supported into next generation vaccines.

And – fueled by our waning immunity and insufficient vaccination efforts abroad – new variants will emerge and pose new threats to us here at home.  The desperate measures taken by the Administration in the absence of Congressional action do nothing to support a global vaccination effort that is running on fumes.  The U.S. Agency for International Development, which manages our global response to the COVID pandemic, has already obligated more than 95 percent of the funds they have available.  Soon they will have no choice but to start shutting down their vaccine delivery operations, which means more mutations, more variants, more infections, and more death abroad and at home.

Finally, I want to make clear that we do not have time left to act later.  This is not a problem that can be solved by flipping a switch.  In order to produce the tens of millions of doses of vaccines and therapeutics necessary to prepare for a fall surge, the government and biotech companies need to begin purchasing supplies now.  And the longer we wait, the further we will fall in line as other countries place their orders ahead of us.

We cannot wait and see what happens.  That is why we were wholly unprepared for this pandemic in the first place – because we refused to invest in preparing for the worst.

So, like many, I am frustrated that we are once again leaving town without addressing this looming crisis.  Since March, I have repeatedly called on us to act.  As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will continue to make to make these calls and fight for these urgently needed resources.

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