Last week, President Biden approved a budget that included no additional Covid spending. None.
The consequences will be drastic. A federal program that reimburses health care providers for vaccinating, testing, and treating uninsured patients is set to end by April 5. The government will scale back its allocations of monoclonal antibodies. And the White House just announced that it won’t have enough funding to purchase fourth vaccine doses for all Americans.
How can this happen after all we’ve learned? Both political parties are responsible: President Joe Biden had proposed $22.5 billion in additional Covid funding, while many Republicans opposed any further Covid spending at all. A coalition of Democrats then refused the alternative option of repurposing individual states’ unspent pandemic relief funds. Add in concerns about the budget deficit, and, in the end, Covid efforts ended up with no funding at all.
But a still-mutating virus isn’t bound by the government’s whims. As Ed Yong wrote in The Atlantic last week, “Before every surge has ended, pundits have incorrectly predicted that the current wave would be the last, or claimed that lifesaving measures were never actually necessary.” Public health experts warn that the coronavirus is not yet endemic, and that it’s too early for the government to get complacent.
The government’s failure to include Covid relief funding in its budget could have serious repercussions down the line. It could discourage the roughly 27 million uninsured Americans from seeking treatment if they become sick with Covid. It will thwart the United States’ attempt to export vaccines to countries that still need them, potentially allowing new variants to emerge as the virus continues to circulate. And it could leave the United States unprepared for the Omicron subvariant that is already increasing case counts in Europe.
We’ve been here before. Covid case counts are plummeting. Masks are coming off. Many yearn to put the pandemic behind us. That doesn’t mean we have the luxury of not preparing for what we know is potentially coming.
It seems that tests, vaccines, and hospital beds are always available when you don’t need them, and never when you do. Thanks to our collective failure to plan ahead, we’re screwing ourselves over in the event of another Covid surge. Now, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope it doesn’t come to that.