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Key US COVID-19 protections won't stop as health emergency ends

The White House Covid-19 response coordinator says the administration will ensure Americans have access to vaccines, tests and treatments.
Key US COVID-19 protections won't stop as health emergency ends
Posted at 4:45 PM, May 09, 2023

The White House Covid-19 response coordinator says the Biden administration will continue to ensure that Americans have access to vaccines, treatments and therapeutics after the national public health emergency comes to an end this week.

"The end of the public health emergency obviously marks a transition," Dr. Ashish Jha told reporters on Tuesday, "But our commitment to protecting Americans has not changed. And what you will see in the weeks and months ahead is ongoing work by this administration to ensure that Americans continue to have what they need to protect themselves and their families against COVID-19."

The assurance comes after nearly a year of calls from the White House for more pandemic funding from Congress, warning that Americans would not be able to get vaccines, treatments and tests without action from Congress.

Dr. Jha told reporters Tuesday that much of those concerns stemmed from vaccine and testing manufacturers scaling back their operations as funds wound down.

"We're constantly working to try to identify resources to make sure that we continue to have testing available, and that has kept the industry going, but I obviously remain concerned about the long-term viability of this," he said.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are considering legislation to recall billions of dollars in unspent pandemic funding to pay down the nation's debt.

"The American people are tired of politicians who use COVID as an excuse for more extreme inflationary spending," House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said in a speech on the House floor last month, unveiling his party's plan to cut spending and address the debt ceiling.

SEE MORE: President Biden to end emergency declarations for COVID

"If the money was authorized to fight the pandemic, what was not spent during the pandemic should not be spent after the pandemic is over," he said.

Dr. Jha told reporters Tuesday that the country is in a much better position to deal with the virus going forward, noting that critical tools like wastewater surveillance to detect virus spread, and partnerships with pharmacies and community health centers to provide vaccines and treatments will not be going away. 

When asked about the Republican proposal, Dr. Jha said that making sure Americans stay protected against Covid-19 "requires resources."

Dr. Jha also lamented a lack of funding from Congress to more quickly shore up the administration's efforts to develop next generation vaccines and therapeutics.

"That was something we wanted to launch last year," he said. "But we didn't have the resources and Congress chose not to fund it. We were able to move it forward this year because of savings that we accumulated both in our testing program as well as in our provider Relief Fund."

Still, Dr. Jha said the country is "in a good place" in terms of its ability to manage the virus going forward.

The end of the public health emergency will bring the dissolution of the White House COVID-19 Response Team.

Congress approved the creation of a new White House Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy in the FY2023 omnibus spending bill, though it's still not clear when that office will be up and running and who will be at the helm.

Asked about his own position after the COVID emergency comes to a close, Dr. Jha told reporters he is focused on the transition.

"When I have more to announce about my future I will be happy to make that announcement," he said.

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