Congress Has Plenty of Money to Protect Ukrainians—But Not Americans from COVID

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President Biden announced Wednesday that the U.S. will provide war-torn Ukraine an additional $800 million in security assistance, spiking the total to $1 billion over the last week.

The money will provide more weapons including Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. The additional $1 billion comes after Biden just signed a new spending bill into law which provided Ukraine $13.6 billion.

Meanwhile, as Biden and Congress find money at ease to aid Ukraine, apparently, the piggy bank has run out to protect Americans when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, which once again is surging in Europe  with an Omicron sub variant called B.A.2—which is now making up nearly a quarter of the cases in the U.S. In NYC, which served as ground zero for COVID in 2020, cases are up 11 percent over the last two weeks.

This potential American surge comes as just 42 percent of Americans have received a third COVID booster shot.

Yet, President Biden announced the administration was running out of money to test, treat, and vaccinate people without health insurance. According to NPR, Congress declined to add $22.5 billion in funding for additional COVID testing and vaccination due to pushback from Republicans and some House Democrats who argued that the new COVID spending would take away separate funding that was promised to at least 30 states but hadn’t been spent yet.

The failed COVID spending bill not only winds down treatment and vaccination for the uninsured (remember when candidate Biden said ; it will also end federal funding for monoclonal antibodies, an effective COVID treatment that, without the government covering the bill can cost over $2,000 dollars.

The government will also scale back purchases of Pfizer’s Paxlovid antiviral treatment—they’ve purchased 20 million treatments thus far—and will be cutting funding for other treatments for immunocompromised people. Funding for surveillance of emerging variants will also be slashed along with distribution of vaccines to poorer countries—the very under-vaccinated countries where new COVID variants are breeding.

Justin Feldman, an epidemiologist and Harvard fellow focusing on social inequality and state violence, called the nickel and dimming of COVID funding concerning.

“This is very concerning,” Feldman told Status Coup. “We’re seeing cases rise again with the Omicron BA.2 subvariant. Even with these treatments, there is a high risk of many deaths and hospitalizations because nearly all public health policies meant to slow the spread of coronavirus have been ended. But failing to fund treatment or vaccines will lead to loss of life that is completely avoidable.”

Feldman called it “absurd” that that Congress can always find money for war but is “tight with the purse strings when it comes to protecting this country’s health.”

He also noted that pulling funding to vaccinate the rest of the world “increases the changes that new variants will emerge more quickly.”

Of course, Biden has emergency executive authority to force Pfizer and Moderna to share their vaccine formula with the rest of the world, but, as consumer advocate Ralph notes, has chosen not to use.

“The federal government has long had the authority to break these patents in times of emergency which is clearly the case–he’s not doing it,” Nader told Democracy Now in January.

Of course, there is zero handwringing among Republicans or Democrats in Congress over the billions of warplanes and other defensive measures we’ve provided thus far as the country has been invaded and bombarded by Russia.

Nor should there be as we should be helping Ukraine in its gravest time of need.

But why should we not be prioritizing the ongoing need to protect Americans in a world of imperfect vaccines whose effectiveness wanes over time in the face of future variants that may not be as “mild” as the previous Omicron.

The Congressional cognitive dissonance to not prioritize whatever money is necessary to better prepare for emerging COVID variants, treat and vaccinate the uninsured, or vaccinate the rest of the world will ensure that we’re all living, and struggling, with COVID for the years to come as the mainstream media—filled with wealthy journalists with gold-plated healthcare— collectively push the corporate-approved narrative to just “learn to live with it.”

The richest country on earth—helping everyone else but its own people.

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