US Congress Allocates $4B To Support Gavi Vaccine Equity Plan
The US COVID-relief package confirmed a US $4 billion investment in Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Just 2 weeks ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a plea to countries to honor their donor pledges to support its COVAX vaccine procurement scheme to equitably distribute at least a portion of forthcoming COVID-19 vaccines to countries around the world. Without donor support, the globall vaccine procurement facility that over 180 countries have joined, risked “becoming no more than a noble gesture”, the WHO warned.

Shortly after the warnings, commitments of some US$ 2.4 billion by eight high-income countries ended the immediate crisis. 

And now, after a vote by the United States Congress, the funding prospects for COVAX in 2021 are looking even brighter. The US COVID-19 relief package – agreed upon on Sunday night, after a near-five-month-long gridlock – has earmarked a US$ 4 billion investment for Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, which along with WHO, is a co-sponsor of the COVAX initiative.

GAVI launched the COVAX Facility in collaboration with WHO – with the aim of immunizing at least 20% of peple in all countries, prioritizing those at highest risk, regardless of income or development levels. It aims to distribute 2 billion doses by the end of 2021, including to 92 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) that cannot afford to pay on their own.

While donor commitments made in recent weeks led to last week’s announcement of procurement deals for nearly 2 billion vaccine doses – enough to vaccinate about 1 billion people, the new US aid should help the campaign go further yet.  It will provide much needed support to health systems to actually carry out the vaccine campaigns – as well as enabling the purchase of further doses required to meet the 20% vaccination goal.

The US investment also represents a domestic about-face after months of almost exclusively “America First” rhetoric and policies on the pandemic from lame duck President Donald Trump; the move by Congress acknowledges that, in fact, a global vaccine drive also will help hasten the end of the pandemic. 

USGLC President & CEO Liz Schrayer

As Liz Schrayer, President and CEO of the US Global leadership Coalition (USGLC), said in a statement: “As the virus is spreading anywhere in the world, Americans are not safe, and that means our current global response is simply not enough.

“There’s no denying this year-end agreement was difficult and hard-fought to address many critical domestic needs. At the same time, hundreds of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have spoken out in recent months that failing to invest in a global response comes at our own peril.”

“More must still be done to address the indirect impacts of the pandemic, particularly the damage its done to stabilization efforts in fragile states and on the food security of vulnerable populations around the world,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican Michael McCaul.

Schrayer also said that this “critical step in the right direction” would “directly impact America’s health and economic recovery”.

COVAX: A Tough Funding Year

The COVAX facility was launched to ensure equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Despite remaining largely uninvolved in the drafting of the Congressional bill, Trump told reporters Wednesday morning that Congress’ coronavirus relief bill “really is a disgrace” – for reasons including the several billion dollars in foreign aid.

He said: “Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests, while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it. It wasn’t their fault. It was China’s fault.”

He capped his remarks with a call to raise the one-off payment to be made to most Americans from US$600 to US$2,000.

Whether Trump’s remarks were merely rhetorical, or not, they followed in line with his previous announcements in April to suspend US funding to the World Health Organization, followed by his July announcement of a US withdrawal from the global health body, altogether. The US moves highlighted the delicate nature of the Organization’s resource base, which relies heavily on voluntary donations from member states as well as other charities. Until April, the US was the biggest single donor to WHO, providing about US$400 million in 2019, and accounting for around 15% of its annual budget. WHO’s programme budget for the two-year 2020-21 period amounts to about US$5.84 billion a year.

While the monies are being directed to Gavi, and not WHO, the bi-partisan approval by Congress of the COVID global vaccine aid, as part of domestic COVID bailout measures, suggests the winds of change that are blowing, ahead of the inauguration of US president-elect, Joe Biden. And while Biden will still have to win the approval of the Republican-controlled Senate for other domestic and global public health spending initiatives, some things can also be done by executive order. For instance, Biden has declared his intention to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement as well as halting the process of withdrawl from the WHO, which was only supposed to take effect in July, 2021.

Image Credits: Ennoti/Flickr, USGLC/Flickr, CIO Look/Flickr.

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