Remember COVID surges? Congress didn’t

Boston Herald editorial staff (TNS)
Vials of Pfizer’s updated COVID-19 vaccine run through a production line in Kalamazoo, Michigan, last month.

Health officials are forecasting a fall COVID-19 surge, but one with fewer fatalities than past coronavirus spikes. The good news: A variant-specific booster has just been authorized to cope with the expected rise in cases.

The bad news: There may not be enough to go around.

This should come as no surprise, as a shortfall in monkeypox vaccines has found health workers stretching doses amid the public health emergency.

White House officials are pointing their fingers at Congress, which needs to cough up the necessary cash to keep vaccine availability on par with need.

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As The Hill reported, a senior White House official said last week the administration will be requesting an additional $22.4 billion to fund the COVID-19 response along with roughly $4 billion to respond to the ongoing monkeypox outbreak.

“We will not have tests in our Strategic National Stockpile should we see another omicron like event,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a briefing. “We had promised the American people we would make sure that we did not get into that, but we needed Congress to step up. Congress has not stepped up.”

He said the possibility of going into the fall and winter without vaccines for Americans was “unacceptable.”

How, in 2022, is COVID-19 funding on an installment plan?

After all, Congress spent the summer wrangling over the Inflation Reduction Act, a $700 billion-plus bit of legislation that is big on boosting clean energy jobs and reducing carbon emissions. One would think it could spare a fraction of that to keep apace on fighting COVID-19 and monkeypox.

But COVID-19 is old news, and Congress is all about passing the progressive agenda its members campaigned for, and duking it out for victory in the midterms.

Recent front-burner items included outrage over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Congress passed bills to protect abortion back in July — President Joe Biden is even willing to change Senate filibuster rules to pass the legislation.

Then, of course came the Inflation Reduction Act fracas, in which Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, earned the wrath of colleagues for opposing parts of the bill. He came around, but the brouhaha sucked up all the oxygen on Capitol Hill for weeks.

Planning ahead for a cold-weather COVID-19 surge? Who’s got time for that?

Congress should have made the time.

“While we may have the vaccines today for folks for this fall vaccine effort, we don’t know what’s coming next,” Becerra said. “We don’t know what the next generation of vaccine will look like if we don’t have the resources to continue that research going.”

That’s the thing with COVID-19 — it mutates and forms new variants. If we don’t keep up, we lose the game.

COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha noted that it is “always more expensive” to respond to a new development like the omicron wave last winter than it is to prepare in advance. He predicted that if another surge of coronavirus cases comes, then Congress would likely pass another round of funding.

“It will cost the American taxpayer twice as much and will be less effective. One of the reasons to be prepared and to be on the front footing.”

Are you listening, Congress?

— From the Boston Herald editorial staff (TNS.