Members Only | June 7, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

We’re in the middle of another covid surge. Yet Congress appears to have moved on

Another health, economic and political disaster in the making.


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We desperately need more funding for covid research and prevention, but the Congress has stalled thanks to right wing opposition. 

President Joe Biden is doing little to push them. 

Even progressives have largely moved on. 

The US is reporting around 100,000 new cases of covid a day. That’s likely an undercount. States and federal agencies are reducing data reporting. The rise of at-home tests mean many cases go unreported. Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious disease expert at Columbia University,  says the true number could be 800,000 cases a day. 

If it seems like everyone you know is getting covid, that’s because they are. We’re in the middle of a massive surge.

Reporting from the Biden White House suggests that the president sees his poor approval ratings as the result of biased news media coverage. But we’re in the middle of a serious, ongoing pandemic which Biden promised to defeat. His inability to do so is undoubtedly responsible for public frustration and weak poll numbers.

Yet for the most part, we’ve stopped trying to stem the spread of infection. Courts overturned the CDC’s mask mandate for public transportation. Localities have ended most of their own mask requirements. Quarantines and lockdowns aren’t on the table.

Fighting a new surge is barely on the agenda. NBC News reports that White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said Biden was focused on “an economic plan for the middle class that fights inflation for the long haul, cuts the cost of prescription drugs, child care, and energy while taking on the climate crisis, and further reducing the deficit.”

There’s no mention there of fighting covid.

That’s unfortunate.  

There are about 2,500 covid deaths a week. News about long covid even for the vaccinated is more and more alarming. Unchecked covid spread creates misery, sickness and death on a huge scale.

Back in March, the White House put out a fact sheet listing dangerous consequences if the Congress did not pass additional covid funding. 

The document warned that without more funding, the government would not be able to purchase or fund boosters, and would not be able to purchase variant specific vaccines. 

Two and a half months later, Congress has still not passed covid legislation. And sure enough, the US is beginning to struggle to provide its people with vaccines.

The government has recommended a fourth vaccine shot for people 50 and older and for immunocompromised people. But it’s suggested only those likely to get “very sick” should get the shot.

Why is the government recommending that vulnerable populations hold off on getting boosters in the middle of a major surge? Presumably because they don’t have enough funds for everyone.


This raises questions about whether the government is keeping vaccines from those under 50 because that’s the best decision or whether they simply lack the capacity to provide additional shots. 

In any case, without further funding, rationing will get worse.

Vaccine efficacy against new variants has dropped alarmingly, especially among children 5 to 11. Pharmaceutical companies are developing vaccines that provide better coverage against variants. 

But if the Congress doesn’t approve more money, the federal government will have to restrict them solely to the most vulnerable, according to a Biden Administration official who spoke to CNBC.

We’ve begun to roll back covid care for the uninsured. Tests are no longer free in many areas. Uninsured patients will have to pay for the administration of vaccines, though not for the vaccines.

This is especially troubling because vaccines are most effective when used most widely. Tight restrictions on use is admitting defeat.

Nor is that the only bad news. Without funding, companies may draw down production of monoclonal antibodies, an early anti-covid treatment that proved very effective for some patients.

We lack funding to build new weapons against the virus. Scientists believe we can develop pan-coronovirus vaccines, which could provide protection against all variants. Nasal vaccines, which would prevent them from getting in through mucus membranes, are in clinical trials.

Massive funding for Operation Warp Speed allowed the miraculously quick discovery and deployment of the initial round of covid vaccines. But there’s no money for a second effort to finish the fight.

The refusal to spend money is especially frustrating because it would obviously be a worthwhile investment. Covid has continued to disrupt supply chains, contributing to inflation and shortages of baby formula. Hospitalizations cost billions. Absent workers also cost billions

A pandemic allowed to rage unopposed is extremely expensive in both the short and long term. Spending to protect people not only reduces death and suffering. It saves money.

Yet virtually no one is making that case. 

Ongoing inflation has made Republicans more determined than ever to fight new spending, not least because they think stalling Biden’s initiatives will hurt Democrats in the fall elections.

Progressives have mostly moved on. Progressive Senator Bernie Sanders introduced another Medicare for All Bill in May. Progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren has been focused on student debt relief. 

Those are both worthy causes. But covid funding is more urgent, and there’s been little effort to highlight it at the congressional level.

Biden has also been quiet on the issue. He’s been talking up deficit reduction, even though that reduction has been possible in part because there hasn’t been any movement on vital covid relief measures.

Reporting from the Biden White House suggests that the president sees his poor approval ratings as the result of biased news media coverage. But we’re in the middle of a serious, ongoing pandemic which Biden promised to defeat. His inability to do so is undoubtedly responsible for public frustration and weak poll numbers.

If the Congress cannot appropriate more funding, we are looking at yet another health, economic and political disaster in the making.

Noah Berlatsky writes about the political economy for the Editorial Board. He lives in Chicago. Find him @nberlat.

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