With just days in office, President Donald Trump has proposed $27.4 billion in brutal cuts, including 5.1 billion recoveries from global public health amid a raging pandemic. $4 billion of the proposed health care cuts would be cut by a vaccine alliance that plays a pivotal role in distributing COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries.
The proposed cuts are part of a rescission petition, which has no chance of passing Congress, Politico reports. However, the proposed cuts — particularly to the vaccine alliance — are likely to make things worse for the global public health community, which continues to fight the spiraling pandemic.
Globally, the total number of COVID-19 cases is over 93 million and the death toll is approaching 2 million. In the US alone, the seven-day moving average of daily new cases is over 235,000, with 129,000 people currently hospitalized. About 4,000 people died every day for the past three days, bringing the death toll in the US to about 380,000.
In May, Trump announced he would end “our relationship” with the World Health Organization, much to the chagrin of health experts around the world. In September, the Trump administration said it would not participate in a WHO-backed effort called COVAX to aid in the development and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines internationally, including to low-income countries. The move drew another round of criticism from public health experts, who called it “short-sighted” and “self-defeating”.
At the time, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven emphasized how vital it is to be involved in global vaccination efforts, saying: “Equal access to a COVID-19 vaccine is key to defeating the virus and paving the way for recovery from the pandemic. .. This cannot be a race with a few winners, and the COVAX facility is an important part of the solution – ensuring that all countries can benefit from access to the world’s largest portfolio of candidates and a fair and equitable distribution of vaccine doses .”
Nearly 100 other high-income countries have joined COVAX, including China, filling the “leadership vacuum” left by the Trump administration.
The move was also “self-defeating” because the US is already funding one of the key organizers of COVAX, namely Gavi, the vaccine alliance.
Funding to Gavi is exactly what the Trump administration now wants to cut when it goes out the door. In the rescission request, the administration justified the cut with vaccine nationalism, writing:
The $4 billion in funding designated as an emergency requirement would provide U.S. funds to support international vaccination efforts, well ahead of the clearly stated U.S. policy to vaccinate at-risk populations in the United States before supporting international vaccination efforts.
However, as Politico points out, Congress has budgeted for both domestic and international vaccination, and Gavi funding is not prioritized over domestic funding.